PR icon Dan Edelman turns 90 this weekend, and his son, Richard, paid tribute at a birthday celebration Wednesday by listing the 10 reasons for his father’s success. As a friend, former client and now competitor, I found these 10 principles to be quite moving and full of good advice for anyone pursuing a career in public relations:
- Compete Every Minute of Every Day – Don’t become self-satisfied because somebody else is ready to take your place. Mourn your losses but learn from them. Celebrate your victories but be quick about it so you can get back to the game. If you get knocked down, get right back up; nobody is going to pity you.
- Modesty in Manner and Possessions – Never refer to “I”, always to “We”, when speaking about the company or the family. Buy new suits only when the old ones get shiny. Drive your car until repair costs require you to make a change. Do not take on debt, either personally or professionally. Grow your business from retained earnings-don’t pay yourself much salary and don’t indulge yourself with boats, planes or dividends.
- Be Well-Informed – Read the New York Times every morning….and the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, Financial Times and USA Today. Tear out good stories and send them to your employees or children-they probably missed the important articles.
- Stay Healthy – Work out at least four days a week but always in a competitive context (why ride the exercise bike when you can fight it out on the tennis court?). Who else at age 84 would proudly display the twenty stitches on his forehead from crashing into the wall in pursuit of the bouncing racket ball? Or would go back onto the court two weeks later with a hockey helmet, paddle in hand, ready to whip the opponent?
- Strive for Perfection – You got just one ‘B’ in your entire college career-in science, of course. When I came home beaming after scoring a 770 out of 800 possible on a college entrance exam, you asked me what I got wrong.
- Become a Citizen of the World -You saw the global potential of PR by the mid 60s when we opened in the UK. You travelled to Asia three weeks every year from the age of 70 until your last trip at age 87. You had the confidence to invest in China in the early 90s and have made it a special point to nurture our operation there.
- Give Back – There are three legs to the stool – family, work and community. You serve on countless boards of directors for non-profits, from the Lyric Opera to the Weitzmann Institute to the Art Institute to Save the Children. You made a generous donation to Columbia Journalism School to fund a patio for students to engage in outdoor discussions. You have encouraged our firm to do pro-bono work for important causes such as Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH.
- Ethics – Internalize the Mark Twain comment, “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” You were once approached by a consultant for a country tourism board who requested a “commission” for delivering the business to Edelman. Your immediate reaction was to throw him out of your office. You were the first and only one to speak out when one of our competitors took on the Church of Scientology-you said that PR is not the law and that not every client deserved representation.
- We’re All Entrepreneurs – Take chances. You meet a woman from newly united Berlin, and boom, we have a new office. You rely on your instincts (but you know the numbers like the back of your hand). You give your people lots of leeway-there is no one path to success. You encouraged generations of Edelman executives with your Dan-o-Grams, that describe in pain-staking detail every comment in a meeting (woe to the young person who fails to take notes-sure to prompt a “never do that again” comment). So many have been developed into outstanding PR people, from Tom Harris to Pam Talbot, working alongside the master.
- Cherish Clients – Every Edelman person is an account executive and required to roll up their sleeves and do the work. You went to every Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisee meeting for thirty years. You ran the California Wines Commission account with a monthly trip to San Francisco (persuading Zsa Zsa Gabor to say that she was “weaned on wine” on Johnny Carson). You knew the CEOs but had strong ties to the heads of PR.
Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman Worldwide, writes the 6 a.m. blog. His current post carries his tribute letter to his father and provides a link to Dan Edelman’s 1988 Today Show interview discussing his remarkable career.