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Edelman public relations was founded in Chicago in 1952 by former journalist Daniel J. Edelman as Daniel J. Edelman and Associates. The company started with three employees and grew to serve 25 accounts by 1960. Edelman established a second office in New York that same year and a third in Los Angeles in 1967.
The firm opened offices in London, Canada, Asia and Europe in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The New York office grew from $1 to $20 million in revenues from 1979 to the late 1980s under the leadership of Daniel Edelman's son, Richard Edelman. By 1981, Edelman had five international offices and it opened six more over the following decade. Some former employees and industry experts said its focus on financial growth led to high turnover and client service issues as a result. There was also an unsuccessful attempt by some employees to start their own firm with some of Edelman's clients.
In 1985, the firm's founder, Daniel Edelman, retired and his son Richard Edelman became the new CEO. In the 1990s, offices were opened in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Spain, South Korea, China, and Belgium. In the United States, a Silicon Valley office was opened in 1992 to serve technology clients, and in Sacramento, California, in 1994. It also opened offices in Florida, Georgia, and Washington. The firm grew to $70 million in revenues by 1994.
In 1995, Edelman was the first public relations firm to have a website and began web-based projects for its clients. By the early 2000s it grew to $210 million with about 25% of revenues coming from Europe. In September 2010, Edelman acquired a Houston-based firm, Vollmer public relations.
An office was opened in Turkey in 2012. By 2012, it had established the Edelman Digital division with about 600 staff and about half of its work was social media-related. It acquired technology public relations firm, A&R, in 2006. In January 2013, the firm launched The Daniel J. Edelman China Group.
In 2012 it introduced the Business and Social Purpose division. It also introduced the Employee Engagement Connections Index, which helps users evaluate employee engagement through data collected in employee surveys, social media conversations, and feedback from human resources departments.
Edelman's founder, Daniel Edelman, is credited with inventing the corporate media tour for his work with his previous employer, Toni Home Permanent Co. He toured the country with "The Toni Twins", a set of twins, where one used a professional salon and the other used Toni's home hair-care products. When Edelman started his own firm, Toni became Edelman's first client. Toni was followed by Sara Lee, a small cheesecake company at the time, and a bowling equipment manufacturer, Brunswick Corporation.
Edelman also worked with Finland to improve its image in part through the Finnfacts Institute it founded in the 1960s. It promoted wine for the California Wine Institute and promoted bowling for the National Bowling Council by emphasizing it as a way to stay in shape. The firm worked with Symantec to promote the Norton brand of antivirus software in more than 35 countries since 2008. Heineken hired Edelman in 2012 for its U.S. corporate public relations and its Dos Equis brand.
In April 1998 the Los Angeles Times reported that Edelman had drafted a campaign plan to ensure that state attorneys-generals did not join antitrust legal actions against Microsoft. Documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times revealed that the plan included generating supportive letters to the editor, opinion pieces, and articles by freelance writers. USA Today said the plan included, "unusual and some say unethical tactics, including the planting of articles, letters to the editor and opinion pieces to be commissioned by Microsoft's top media handlers but presented by local firms as spontaneous testimonials".
In the 2000s, Edelman created a front group called the Working Families for Wal-Mart, which said it was a grassroots organization, but was actually funded by Wal-Mart. It paid two bloggers to travel the country interviewing Wal-Mart employees, one of whom was a senior Edelman employee's sister. According to The New Yorker, "everyone she talked to was delighted with Wal-Mart". In 2006, BusinessWeek reported that the public relations effort, which was positioned as a grassroots blog, was actually paid for by Wal-Mart. The New Yorker called it a "blatant example of astroturfing".
In 2008 Edelman's work with E.ON, which planned to build a coal power station at Kingsnorth attracted protests at Edelman's UK headquarters. In 2009, to coincide with the weeklong "Climate Camp" range of protests, a group of naked protestors occupied Edelman's reception.
Edelman provided crisis communications to News Corporation during the phone hacking scandal. Other clients have included Vidal Sassoon, Red Cross, Cantor Fitzgerald, Royal Dutch Shell, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Starbucks, and the government of Saudi Arabia. It has used front groups to help the American Petroleum Institute reduce the perceived environmental damage caused by oil companies.
Edelman was commissioned by TransCanada Corporation to run campaigns supporting the Keystone XL pipeline, a proposed pipeline to carry tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf coast of Texas. Edelman also developed a strategy for the proposed Energy East pipeline intended to carry tar sands oil through Québec, en route to a deep water harbor at Cacouna, Quebec for export abroad in supertankers and to refineries in New Brunswick. This resulted in a major controversy when documents leaked to Greenpeace revealed that Edelman had made some unethical proposals to sway public opinion in favor of its client. TransCanada distanced itself from those proposals as soon as the "dirty tricks" were published in the press. In 2015, the firm announced that it would cease work for coal producers and climate change deniers.
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