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PR giant Daniel Edelman dies

Daniel J. Edelman founder Edelman public relations firm died Tuesday. | Al Podgorski ~1992 Sun-Times photo

Daniel J. Edelman, founder of the Edelman public relations firm, died Tuesday. | Al Podgorski ~1992 Sun-Times photo

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Updated: February 17, 2013 6:21AM



Daniel J. Edelman started his public relations firm in a small office in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart in 1952. Forty-five years later, his son Richard became its CEO.

Ever since, the younger Edelman said, the men spoke daily about the business.

“He was absolutely active until he got sick four or five months ago,” Richard Edelman said.

And even then, international leaders of the firm that bears his name, including its chief operating officer, would visit him in the hospital for briefings.

“He always said, ‘My legacy is my company and my family,’” Richard Edelman said.

Daniel Edelman, 92, died Tuesday of heart failure as the namesake of the world’s largest public relations firm, with 65 offices and more than 4,400 employees. It also remains a family business — all three of his children are employed at the firm.

“We’re going to preserve his legacy by staying private and independent and feisty,” Richard Edelman said. “Because that’s what he wanted.”

Public relations professionals who knew Daniel Edelman hailed him as an imaginative, ethical giant of the industry who kicked off the first modern media tour, believed in even his youngest employees and remained vibrant by becoming a global citizen.

“I really believe he will be regarded as one of the greatest American businessmen of the last 100 years,” said Bridget Brennan, CEO of the Chicago-based consulting firm Female Factor.

Edelman was born in New York City in July 1920 and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia College in New York in 1940. A year later he earned a master’s degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and he took a job at a Poughkeepsie, N.Y., newspaper.

He was drafted into the Army in 1942, where he produced a daily newspaper for the troops and was later tasked with analyzing German propaganda.

He took a night-shift position as a news writer for CBS in New York when he returned to civilian life. Later he became a publicist at Musicraft Records, and that’s when he hit upon an idea he said changed his life. It involved Mel Torme and the home hair care manufacturer known as the Toni Co.

Edelman packaged Torme’s latest records in an album designed to look like a Toni home permanent wave kit. The idea so impressed the Toni ad manager he put Edelman on the staff of its New York agency. Edelman was transferred to Chicago in 1947 to become its public relations director.

Edelman is credited with kicking off the first modern media tour after he decided to put six sets of twins on a road show as part of Toni’s “Which Twin had the Toni?” ad campaign for its $1 do-it-yourself hair kits.

After four years at Toni, Edelman started his own company. Toni was his first client. The California wine industry picked him to promote its wines in 1966, and he retained movie star Vincent Price. According to the firm, it was one of the first uses of a celebrity in a public relations campaign.

One of Edelman’s greatest success, though, was the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, the first free consumer hot line he created in 1981.

Edelman’s company finally grew to be the world’s largest public relations firm in 2010, Richard Edelman said. And when it reached the milestone, he said his father didn’t crow.

“He said, ‘It’s great to be the biggest, but we must always strive to be the best,’ ” Richard Edelman said.

In addition to Richard, Daniel Edelman is survived by his wife of 59 years, Ruth Ann Rozumoff Edelman, who is a member of the firm’s board of directors, his daughter Renee of New York, who is a senior vice president there, and son John of Chicago, who is managing director of Edelman’s Global Engagement and Corporate Social Responsibility initiative.



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