Last night, I was inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame. It is with great pride that I accept this honor and the honor of being the first Public Relations executive to be inducted. But this doesn’t happen without my Edelman and Zeno colleagues; their dedication to the firm and our clients and their ambition and bravery to produce industry leading work. To all past and present Edelman and Zeno employees, I want to say thank you. Please see my full acceptance speech below.
I am honored to be inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame, especially as the first PR person to break the barrier. The single best decision my father and I made was to remain independent and family owned. Many holding companies approached us over the years. One in particular got quite aggressive when we turned down their offer, saying they were going to squash Edelman like a walnut if we didn’t sell. I guess that makes Edelman one tough nut. My favorite sweatshirt says, “You can’t scare me, I was born in Chicago,” just like Edelman, now the largest communications firm.
I want to express my deepest appreciation to our clients who have entrusted us with their brands and reputation for the past 70 years. It began with the Toni Twins media tour; to Dove Real Beauty and Cannes Grand Prix Winner REI #OptOutside; from the United 3411 crisis and changing the Good Humor ice cream jingle; to the Ajinomoto #TakeOutHate campaign and CVS taking cigarettes out of stores—these are all testament to our belief that action drives trust and trust drives action, where we started movements.
My proudest contribution to our industry has been the Edelman Trust Barometer. For 22 years we have evaluated trust in business, government, media and NGOs across the world. We have found that business is today the most trusted institution, and trust is local in “my employer” and “my CEO”. This puts a special responsibility on companies to step into the void left by government. And why? Today’s consumers are belief-driven buyers who will buy or boycott a brand because of its position on a social or political issue. Belief-driven employees choose a workplace based on shared values and expect their CEO to take a stand on societal matters. And for the first time, investors rate ESG as highly as financial performance and operational excellence.
It is hard to follow a legend. My father was my role model, the founder of our firm and creator of marketing PR. I spoke with him every day for the 35 years we worked together. My mother clearly was the one most responsible for my success—even to the point of rousting me out of bed at 7 a.m. with a whistle, supervising my high school football pre-season training. To my mentors, Harvard Business School Professor Stephen Greyser and Peter Georgescu of Young & Rubicam—thanks for your guidance and belief. To my friends in the media, some of whom are here this evening, you are invaluable to what we do, and I want to thank you for always pushing us and our clients to be better. To my wife Claudia, whose work with the Hispanic community and partnering with the corporate sector is so inspiring to me. To my sister and brother, thank you for being my partners. And to my daughters, who will carry on my work, know that to be an Edelman is a special responsibility—to work harder than anyone else, to get up when you get knocked down, to treat your team as your family, always to lead from the front and to be an active contributor to the community. Finally, to my past and present colleagues at Edelman and Zeno, this is all made possible by you. Thank you for your dedication, ambition and bravery to produce industry-leading work. And thank you for taking the chance to work for a family business that never stops trying to do it better. I accept this honor for you.
Richard Edelman is CEO.