Today brings sad news for the entire PR world: Daniel J. Edelman, industry innovator and founder of Edelman PR, died of heart failure in Chicago this morning at the age of 92.
Edelman, born in New York City on July 3, 1920, displayed an interest in journalism early in his life: He produced a community newspaper with a friend at age 11 and quickly became a sports writer/editor before earning his master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1941.
Edelman’s introduction to public relations came during his service in the armed forces. Drafted to serve overseas in 1942, he produced a newspaper for fellow soldiers before being assigned to, in his own words, “write an analysis of German propaganda” and advise the United States military on counter-messaging efforts.
Upon his return from the service, he got a job writing for CBS News before working as a music publicist at a record label representing Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie and other stars of the era. According to Edelman, his real PR breakthrough came when he devised a brilliant promotional campaign for a radio show hosted by Mel Torme and sponsored by home hair care brand the Toni Company: he packaged Torme’s latest album in a cover designed to resemble a hair care kit and sent it around to local DJs to earn press attention.
The company was “so impressed” that it hired him before sending him to Chicago to work as its PR director. His first project for Toni further revealed his PR instincts: Toni’s promo campaign involved two twins, one of whom had received an expensive salon perm and one who had performed her own at-home perm with a Toni set. Edelman encouraged the company to take the “Toni twins” on tour, challenging women in the audience to guess which one had done the job herself.
Edelman held the Toni role for four years before deciding to start his own firm (and scoring his former employer as Edelman PR’s first client).