Remembering Daniel Edelman

In a profession where anonymity and ‘behind the scenes’ work is crucial, it is hard to be recognized as a trailblazer or pioneer. While some view public relations reps as ‘flacks’ – it is a profession full of some of the brightest and most talented thinkers out there. By no stretch of the imagination, the entire community is saddened by the loss of Daniel Edelman.

He was truly a pioneer who transformed the business of public relations into what we know today. He created the largest public relations firm in the world from the ground-up, molding the role of counselor and advisor, thinking-up media tours and expanding thought-leadership from the printed word and into TV and radio.

A digital memorial has emerged on the ‘Meet the Team’ page for Daniel Edelman, with a request to share your stories. Reading them it is apparent he was a smart and humble leader who not only made his mark on the industry, but on the lives and careers of so many. I’ll leave you with one story pulled from that page which gives a clear and poignant look at the visionary we will all miss so much.

A legend has left us, but what we learned from him will always be with us.

My fondest memory of Dan goes back to my days as a naive grad student at Medill at Northwestern (nearly 35 years ago, long before Google searching). One of our biz reporting assignments was to interview a CEO. Since I had been doing some work in PR, I decided I’d find a CEO of a PR firm and interview him or her. I asked a faculty member who said there was a firm named Edelman and the president, who was named Dan Edelman, was said to be a good guy.

So I called the Edelman office and asked to speak to Mr. Edelman. Dan’s assistant did not laugh at my request for him to spend an hour with a grad student for a class assignment — she said she’d check and when she called back, she said he’d be happy to do it.

When I arrived at the Edelman offices, I looked around and realized that Dan was not just the head of “some PR company” — this was obviously a big, major company and I was taking up the time of a pretty important guy.

Of course the interview was marvelous, and when I tried to apologize for being so presumptuous and taking up his time, Dan smiled that great grin and said “I wanted to meet the student who was bold enough to ask me for help with her homework.”

Twenty years after that, I ran into Dan when he was receiving his Gold Anvil award from PRSA, and started to re-introduce myself. He stopped me and said “Kathy Lewton, the woman who got me to spend an hour on her school assignment,” and when I told him how I would forever be embarrassed by that, he said something that’s stayed with me ever since and has been a talisman for me.

“We all have to help each other out — that’s how we make a better profession and a better world.”

Words to live by, from one of the true giants in our field, and one of the kindest gentlemen to pass through this life.