They say the greatest tribute to a life is the legacy left behind. If that’s the case, then the Utah business and communications community are the beneficiaries of Daniel Edelman’s legacy.
His passing last week at the age of 92 stirred veneration far and wide. He was a friend and mentor to communications students and provided tangible support for educators — helping them stay current in the field. He also provided valuable counsel for local and international clients, including the LDS Church. For the world of public relations, he was not only an innovator, but also a trusted friend and mentor.
A pioneer in the field of public relations, Edelman established his firm in Chicago in 1952, when modern public relations was in its infancy. The firm grew with the field, eventually becoming Edelman, Worldwide, the world’s largest independent PR firm with 66 offices worldwide and more than 4,500 employees.
His innovative ideas helped shape contemporary communications, from creating the first modern media tour to demonstrating the importance of corporate social responsibility. For example, by working with Starkist to introduce dolphin-safe nets, he made fishing better. He even established the Butterball Turkey Talk Line used by thousands annually during the holiday season, and he helped persuade Congress to accept the design for the “Wall” as the Vietnam Veteran’s war memorial.
Edelman believed in searching out the best and brightest, finding places for them in his organization and giving them the leg up they needed to succeed in the professional world. Many Utah students and professionals were among them.
After graduating from Columbia University, Edelman served his country during WWII in the Intelligence unit of the 100th Infantry Division, where he became an expert in propaganda analysis. This experience set the tone for the rest of his career as he learned the power of words and images.
He would help transform the field of public relations from a circus surrounded by gimmicks, to a field designed around building relationships of trust and meeting customers’ needs. He took his clients’ messages out of the boardrooms and brought them to the people. There are few pieces of Americana he did not touch.
An avid philanthropist, Edelman served many causes from violence to autism. He worked vigorously to make the world a better place.
We knew him, we will miss him, but we will not forget him.
Laurie J. Wilson and Joseph D. Ogden are public relations educators and authors of "Strategic Communications Planning for Effective Public Relations and Marketing."