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Chapter 14 - The Danogram Man

Dan Edelman is the proverbial legend in his own lifetime. His public profile as the founder of the world’s largest independent public relations firm more than 50 years is there for all to see. Dubbed the dean of public relations in the US, his contribution to the profession has been honoured by all the most respected institutions from the Public Relations Society of America, the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism to the Arthur Page Society. He’s even had a street in Chicago named after him.

Its public knowledge that Edelman, a native New Yorker, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia College and earned a master’s degree from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in 1941. During World War II, he was an enlisted man and officer in the U.S. Army in psychological warfare in England, France and Germany and received four battle stars and the Commendation Medal. He was a news writer for CBS before moving into public relations in New York. He started his firm in Chicago in 1952.

The agency’s client work is legendary. Edelman created the first ever media tour when he took the Toni Twins to 76 cities in the US to promote Toni’s new home permanent wave kits; helped Sara Lee pioneer frozen baked goods; created a demand for the 3M overhead projector; successfully promoted Californian wine; created a a Morris look-a-like contest that landed the star of 9-Lives Cat Food ads on 75 TV shows and even running for President of the US:

helped secure US landing rights for Concorde, the Anglo-French supersonic jet; created publicity to make more than 90% of the U.S. public was aware of the new Microsoft Xbox product before it was available for sale; in the wake of September 11 beat over 70 competitors to lead a public information campaign for Lower Manhattan. The list is endless.

But little is known about Dan Edelman, the boss for whom I worked for 24 years.

An insight into the man can be taken from his 10 commandments to all staff:

  1. Be flexible
  2. Get the big story
  3. Be profitable
  4. Take notes
  5. Don’t argue
  6. Worry!
  7. Do a survey
  8. Be a self-starter
  9. Merchandise the clippings
  10. Remember, this is a service business

Dan practiced what he preached. He was a prolific note taker. His meeting reports were so detailed and accurate that it was if he had used a tape recorder (which he hadn’t) and his staff memos, privately called Danograms were rarely less than two A4 pages of single spaced typewritten text.

I fell into an early trap of trying to reply to each one but soon gave up when the Danograms got longer and longer.

Every spare moment he spent on the phone talking to clients and drumming up new ones.

He was a professional worrier. I remember receiving a late night phone from Chicago making sure that everything was organized for a client press conference in London the following day.

The client was always God. After every successful pitch his first words were: “Remember, the moment you win a new client you start to lose them”. Translated for the uninitiated our service had to start immediately.

I almost left Edelman on my first day in the London office when I found a handwritten welcome note from Dan addressed to ‘dear Dave’. I was shocked – a few days earlier I was ‘Mr. Davis from The Times’ and now I was ‘Dave’ to some PR guy from Chicago. I called Beryl threatening to leave but fortunately she persuaded me to stay a little while.

The note sat staring at me the rest of the week as I pondered how to reply. Eventually I did, thanking him for his note and signing myself David Davis, with the David underlined. I was never called Dave again.

Dan Edelman never minced his words. He was honest, almost to the point of brutality. I recall that at my first meeting with him after a few brief pleasantries he said: “Get yourself some long socks….I don’t like men showing bare leg”. I bought long socks.

Being thousands of miles away in London, it was probably easier for me than most of the senior managers to disagree with Dan.

We constantly argued over his refusal to have a company personnel function (now its called Human Resources) and his objection to the time I spent personally seeing everyone who was looking for a job at Edelman instead of meeting clients.

We also disagreed on his refusal to a public flotation saying that public relations was an unsuitable business for the stock market because it would cramp innovative investment in favour of bottom line profits for shareholders.

Subsequent stock market failures by other PR firms proved him to be absolutely right and me wrong. I dropped him a note to acknowledge his foresight.