Go into Brand Management
May 15, 2008
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
should go into brand management,” I told Richard Edelman
when we first met 30 years ago over lunch in Cathedral Hall, the
grand dining room at the University Club of Chicago.
As a hyper-charged
brand manager touting Butterball products, I arrogantly urged
Edelman to eschew the family business of public relations his
father founded in 1952. I thought branded turkey beaks and feet
had it all over the public advocacy role and press agentry of
is no place for a guy with a Harvard M.B.A.,” I said at
the time. I was wrong.
54, is president and CEO of Edelman, the world’s largest
independent public relations firm, with 3,000 employees in 50
offices worldwide. He was named Advertising Age’s
2008 Agency Executive of the Year. The agency he leads has grown
spectacularly under his guidance.
“When I joined
the business it was $6 million in revenues,” Edelman says.
“We’re going to finish this year at $440 million,”
Edelman turned down
a glamorous job offer to work in brand management at Playtex in
Stamford, Conn. to help run programs for his father’s company.
“My dad had an
offer to be acquired by DDB in 1978. I was set to go to work at
Playtex. I was 24. He called and said, ‘I don’t want
to sell the agency. I want you to commit to one year. I’ll
pay you whatever the average starting salary is for Harvard Business
School graduates.’ So I did it,” says Edelman. The
rest, as they say, is agency history.
Whenever I encounter
Edelman he’s always a step ahead. He was going global and
counseling clients on the importance of non-governmental organizations
(NGO) in the 1980s. In the 1990s he alerted me to the importance
of green programs. In the new millennium, he’s been focused
on studying the issue of trust. In its ninth year the Edelman
Trust Barometer is a powerful tool for C-level executives.
Edelman thinks the
splintering of media and changing nature of consumer trust are
crucial parameters for marketers to consider.
interesting, changing time,” Edelman says. “It’s
more than the evolution to digital media. There’s a dispersion
of authority. People used to go home and watch Walter Cronkite
and the CBS Evening News. Now the average, informed person is
reading or watching seven media outlets a day and getting news
throughout the day,” he says.
Barometer shows CEOs aren’t very trusted and perhaps make
bad spokespeople. In contrast, collaborative vehicles like Wikipedia
are very trusted and highly used resources. The study shows people
trust authentic sources—people who are in similar circumstances
to themselves. That finding explains the huge success of the Dove
Real Beauty campaign that relies on everyday people rather than
fashion models to pose in the ads.
are highly trusted whereas the U.S. government lags badly in the
trust barometer. Most importantly, the study finds a strong correlation
between trust and corporate financial performance. Companies that
are trusted—companies that understand and rely on the four
drivers of trust that Edelman has uncovered—deliver better
The four drivers of
trust in business are:
Delivering quality products, top notch service and good value
• Reputation: Paying attention to your corporate reputation,
having a strong position on social issues and being known as a
good place to work
• Leadership: Being known in your industry for delivering
on promises, taking leading positions
• Local Familiarity: Having a local presence, proximity
point, today’s brand managers need to worry about more than
delivering a superior product that benefits customers. That’s
simply table stakes. Corporate reputation, leadership and local
engagement need to be to considered to assure your brand and your
products will be preferred. Otherwise you’ll lose trust,
competitors will gain share and your sales will lag. That makes
the public relations agency’s role more important than ever.
“There is an
evaporation of what used to be an orange-striped line between
corporate reputation and brand,” Edelman says. “It
used to be customers separated Procter & Gamble, Head &
Shoulders and Crest, but not any longer. Brands are taking certain
aspects of the corporate reputation. In the Dove Real Beauty campaign
[from Unilever] the product managers are concerned about the appropriate
sourcing of raw materials and making sure the women that work
in their factories have decent conditions,” Edelman adds.
That’s why Edelman’s
agency was at the table with the product managers developing the
Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. “It was the Dove product
people’s idea, not Edelman or Ogilvy’s,” he
It is clear Edelman
believes he made the right choice to go into the family business.
And he believes more marketing graduates will enter his field.
“I think it’s
a thrilling global opportunity. We already have more than 200
people in China working on the Beijing Olympics,” Edelman
says. “It’s also a complex business. You’ve
got NGOs, all kinds of other voices and online bloggers. I think
we’re in a growth industry.”
The Internet and social
media make public relations more important and a challenging profession
for new recruits. Because of the Internet, there can be a near
permanent, searchable record of almost everything we say and do.
If you are rude in public, someone may blog about you. As Edelman’s
colleague, Laura Deal says, “Google never forgets.”
That makes Edelman’s counsel and advice more relevant and
important than ever.
Yet Richard Edelman
remains as practical and down to earth as he was 30 years ago.
He’s authentic. He’s real. I guess that comes from
growing up in the Midwest.
a guy from Chicago,” says Edelman, “That’s how
Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group, based in Chicago,
and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Mkt-strat.com