Long before Richard Edelman was named president and chief executive of Edelman—the public relations firm launched by his father, industry legend Daniel J. Edelman, in 1952—there were questions about whether the agency would be able to hold on to its independence in an industry where the largest players were being acquired by giant communications holding companies.
Edelman not only held on to his independence, he turned into a source of competitive advantage. The firm is not only the largest independent public relations firm in the world, it is the third largest firm overall, and arguably the most successful of the past decade, outperforming its peers by growing in excess of 20 percent a year—most of that growth organic—expanding its international footprint, and establishing itself as the industry thought leader on issues such as institutional trust and the use of social and digital media.
There’s no doubt that Edelman has found independence liberating. It has enabled him to become a vocal—and occasionally outspoken—leader for the cause of a public relations-centric view, an advocate for a PR leadership role in marketing and corporate communication in an age of increasing transparency, at a time when authenticity is increasingly valuable.
That has been most visible in Edelman’s pioneering work in social and digital media. Edelman may not have been the first big agency CEO to grasp the importance of new media—although he was certainly among the pioneers—but he was the first to hire bloggers and other digital media experts in highly-visible senior roles, the first to start blogging himself, and the most outspoken in pointing out that the conversational nature of digital and social media created an unprecedented opportunity for PR to succeed advertising as the central discipline in communications.
He also created what has become the most-cited ongoing research in the industry, examining opinion leader trust in institutions—public and private—and information sources (media new and old) in major markets around the world. That research has helped to underpin Edelman’s expansion into non-traditional areas, most notably word-of-mouth (following from the finding that people trust their peers more than they do more traditional and authoritative sources of information) and has provided access to corporate chieftains, most notably at Davos, where Edelman has provided the survey’s findings to CEOs and others in recent years.
Edelman was named president and CEO of the firm in September 1996, after serving as president of Edelman's U.S. operations, regional manager of Europe and manager of the firm's New York office. In addition to his management responsibilities, he remains active in business development—he has a reputation as one of the best new business people in the PR business—and in client counseling, with current assignments including work for Scotts Miracle Gro, McGraw Hill and HP. He has also ounseled several countries on economic development programs, including Egypt, Israel and Mexico.
An expert in working with non-governmental organization, Edelman has spoken on the topic at several conferences including The Institute of Social & Ethical AccountAbility, The Conference Board and the World Economic Forum.
In 2006, he was named Entrepreneur of the Year in the New York Metropolitan Area by Ernst & Young, and he was named the Most Powerful PR Executive by PR Week in October 2008 and Agency Executive of the Year by AdAge in January of the same year. The Edelman agency, which now has more than 3,100 employees in 54 offices worldwide, was named PR Agency of the Year 2009 by PR Week and Global Agency of the Year by the Holmes Report.
Richard Edelman serves on the board of directors of the Ad Council, the Atlantic Council, the International Business Leaders Forum, the Gettysburg National Battlefield Foundation and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. He is also a member of the World Economic Forum, the Arthur Page Society and PR Seminar.