Daniel Edelman, Founder of World’s Largest PR Firm, Dies at 92

Daniel J. Edelman, founder of the world’s largest independent public-relations firm, with a client list that includes Microsoft Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and General Electric Co., has died. He was 92.

He died yesterday of heart failure, according to a statement from his company, citing his wife, Ruth Edelman.

The firm that Edelman started in 1952 in Chicago now has 66 offices and more than 4,500 employees worldwide, according to its website. It is part of closely held Daniel J. Edelman Inc., of which he remained chairman.

Edelman “was the acknowledged leader in public relations for consumer products and gained fame in the USA as the creator of the media tour -- a PR technique in which a company spokesperson visited key markets, performed store openings, did radio and newspaper interviews and, most important of all, participated in a talk show on local television,” according to “The Global Public Relations Handbook: Theory, Research and Practice” (2009), edited by Krishnamurthy Sriramesh and Dejan Vercic.

Edelman’s choice of Vincent Price as spokesman for the California wine industry in 1966 was one of the first deployments of a celebrity in a PR campaign, according to the firm.

Firm’s Milestones

Other milestones the firm cites include repositioning Kentucky Fried Chicken as KFC in 1975, establishing the first free consumer help-line with the Butterball Turkey Talk-line to help holiday-season cooks in 1981, managing the release of the Iraq Study Group Report in 2006 and helping Starbucks run its 40th anniversary campaign in 2011.

Edelman retired as chief executive officer in 1996, handing the reins to his son, Richard Edelman.

Daniel Joseph Edelman was born on July 3, 1920, in New York City. He graduated from Columbia University in 1940 and earned a master’s degree in journalism a year later from its Graduate School of Journalism.

He worked as a reporter in Poughkeepsie, New York, before serving in World War II in a psychological warfare unit -- “doing a lot of writing and nightly analysis of German propaganda,” he recalled in an interview with the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication, part of Penn State University.

Before founding his firm on Oct. 1, 1952, in an office in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, Edelman wrote news for CBS and handled public relations for a hair-care company that later was acquired by Gillette Co.

In addition to his son Richard, Edelman’s survivors include his wife of 59 years, the former Ruth Ann Rozumoff, a member of the firm’s board of directors; a daughter, Renee, a senior vice president; a son, John, managing director of the firm’s global engagement and corporate social responsibility initiative; and three granddaughters.

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