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Edelman: A Giant in the PR World

Published on Sept. 28, 2022, at 3:21 p.m.
by Kelsey Nayman.

What once started as a small public relations agency “to do better than the competition” has now expanded into the largest agency in the world with “more than 6,000 employees in 66 offices across 28 countries.” Since 1952, Edelman has “remained an independent, family-run agency” and continues to work by upholding its core values.

For more than 20 years, Edelman has studied the influence of trust among society. The Edelman Trust Barometer is “an annual global survey of more than 36,000 respondents in 28 countries” to report timely “societal indicators of trust among business, media, government and NGOs, shaping conversation and setting the agenda for the year ahead.” For example, the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer found that “Russia’s war on Ukraine has pushed geopolitics to the top of the business agenda.”

Over the years, Edelman has garnered numerous honors, including Cannes Lions Independent Agency of the YearCannes Lions Grand Prix for Asics Eternal Run Campaign and Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work. A notable phase in the company’s development was “naming the industry’s first global head of climate” at end of 2021.

In the following Q&A, several of Edelman’s employees (Lindsay Garrison, Maribeth McClenny, Katey Quinn, and Grace Rodi) highlight their time and experience at Edelman.

What is your job title and what does it entail at Edelman?

Garrison: “I am an executive vice president; I sit in brand practice at Edelman. I oversee our relationship with the American Egg Board and work closely with the Butterball Account Team. Butterball has been a client of Edelman’s for more than 40 years. In fact, we helped launch the infamous Butterball Turkey Talk Line. These are the two main clients that I am supporting now. In my leadership role, I am always doing a combination of overseeing day-to-day work to ensure we’re delivering and meeting, if not exceeding, all expectations and working closely with clients to be thinking six, 12, 18 months out in a parallel path to make sure we’re always being mindful of what the future may hold and try to get a head start when we can. This isn’t new to Edelman, but the events that have occurred within the past few years have really magnified the importance of this.”

McClenny: “I am a senior account executive in Edelman’s technology practice. I work with global enterprise technology companies to drive their earned media strategies. While there’s no “typical” day in PR, my main responsibilities include drafting media pitches conducting outreach to reporters and collaborating with my clients and teams on media strategies. I work closely with my teams to prepare executives for interviews by coordinating interview logistics, developing talking points and drafting briefing documents.”

Quinn: “I’m an assistant account executive. On a general level, this [position] entails being an account manager handling agendas and managing the account team while also taking on responsibilities such as earned media and executive visibility.”

Rodi: “I am an assistant account executive; I started as an intern in June and then transitioned into this role. [It] consists of assisting my team [and] completing daily tasks, such as recording notes, updating trackers, writing messaging, creating media lists and [conducting] competitive analyses.”

How would you describe a typical day at Edelman?

Garrison: “There is no typical day at Edelman. The great thing about agency work is that there are no two days that are alike. Everyone probably has some version of a to-do list, which is a combination of what I know I need to do but also things I want to work on long term, such as supporting someone on my team making sure they’re getting the right opportunities for their growth and development or research or professional development for myself. Usually, the average day has a number of different meetings.”

McClenny: “Work/life balance can be tricky when you work from home, so I try to prioritize my mental and physical health by starting almost every day with a Pure Barre class. Once I begin my workday, I start by reading the news to see what’s trending in business and tech to see how it impacts my clients and if there are opportunities for my clients to provide their point of view on a trending topic.”

Quinn: “There is no typical day in PR. Twenty-five percent of the overall week is planned with regular internal/client account meetings and administrative duties that you’re responsible for. Fifty percent is whatever your client needs most urgently. Twenty-five percent is whatever is going on in the world.”

Rodi: “A typical day is dependent on what is going on that week. This could be a week where not much is going on; then you wake up on a Tuesday and there are 10 million things and are very busy in terms of client requests. You are always monitoring the media to see what is breaking news and what you need to flag for the client before the client sees it.”

What do you enjoy most about working at Edelman?

Garrison: “I’ve only ever worked on the agency side. I am an Edelman boomerang, meaning I started at a different agency, went to Edelman for five-six years, went to another agency, then boomeranged back to Edelman in 2017. From being at two other agencies, I really enjoy Edelman’s independence. There is real value in that, and most of us have really felt that within these past few years. Edelman is known for the trust barometer research that looks at how trust flows across media, government, business and NGOs. While it would have been easy for Edelman to cut back on research during the pandemic, Edelman leaned into researching how trust was changing regarding how different organizations were responding to COVID-19 and George Floyd to understand the impact of race and DEI. We knew we couldn’t advise our clients on how to respond to that change with any confidence without doing our research first.”

McClenny: “The people. I began my career at a small agency, so when I started at Edelman, I was worried it would be a big transition. I thought that I might not develop the same personal connections to my coworkers that came so easily at a smaller agency, but that is not true at all. The people at Edelman are incredible, and even though we are a global agency, it still has the connectivity of a smaller agency that I love. The high-level expertise that everyone has here at Edelman that is easily accessible to you at any time is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.”

Quinn: “The trust and flexibility. As an employee you’re genuinely trusted with the work that you’re doing. You have a lot of freedom to work in the ways that you work best. Within the past year and a half working at Edelman, I have enjoyed how flexible the company culture is. I also enjoy the amount of resources you have here at Edelman. With 6,000 brilliant people, anyone out there has the information you’re seeking; you have track them down. You have so many different resources to connect people across the world.”

Rodi: “The people. Majority of the time it is a younger culture at Edelman which I think is great. It’s nice to have a lot of people who were just in your shoes starting off their career five or six years ago and seeing how they’ve progressed within such a short time. It’s also uplifting to see that you will be able to get there and have those relationships that you build with people within Edelman. Everyone is so supportive. From my first day as an intern, everyone was so willing to help but they also trust you in your responsibilities.”

What skills and/or knowledge have you gained since working at Edelman?

Garrison: “My favorite thing about working at a large agency is having so many smart people around you, so I feel like I am constantly learning. I know enough to be dangerous about some of the things my counterparts have built their career on. Overtime I have refined my listening skills on what my clients are worried about. Whether I am an expert or not, I know there is someone here at Edelman who [is an expert] in that respective field who is willing to help me grow in that area.”

McClenny: “Everything we do at Edelman is rooted in strategy and data. Having so many experts within the agency allows us to effectively counsel clients no matter the situation. The Trust Barometer report Edelman releases annually is a great example of the level of expertise and research of the firm. This data is not only helpful to businesses globally but also in developing our own communications strategies for clients.”

Quinn: “I’ve learned more in the last year and a half than I have in my entire life. Working in a very fast-paced agency environment means being able to pivot and multitask; you must be able to switch between clients in an instant. Also, the skills alone of how to manage your time and how to effectively switch your brain into different gears have been incomparable.”

Rodi: “Being able to communicate with a client. A lot of my prior experience working in PR was working in house; everything we talked was internally. Just being able to form relationships with a client has been huge for me.”

What do you think are the most important qualities for someone to excel in your role?

Garrison: “I feel as if the more seasoned you get in your career the more you become the client go-to. For me, learning how to think like a client even if you’ve never been a client is important.”

McClenny: “Writing — you have to be a good writer in PR, whether it’s drafting a pitch or a client email. I think it’s safe to say 99% of my job is writing. Also, be open to flexibility. You never know what’s going to happen in PR and when you might have to pivot the strategy you spent a month developing in a matter of seconds. Last, be a good communicator. As PR professionals, we are advising our clients on how to best portray themselves, but we also need to apply that to ourselves — whether that’s how you promote yourself on LinkedIn or how you speak to your colleagues in the workplace.”

Quinn: “Attention to detail is key. Care and consideration for the work you’re producing is very important. The effort you put forth shines more than the work you put forth. Not everything has to be perfect or right; just the effort goes a much longer way than work sometimes.”

Rodi: “You must be able to be hard working and never back down when going above and beyond. The biggest thing is to complete tasks, come up with ideas and do things before they’re asked of you when possible. You must be innovative and hard working in terms of how much effort you put in.”

If you could give one piece of career advice, what would it be?

Garrison: “Somewhere on the wall of Reese Phifer [home of The University of Alabama’s College of Communication and Information Sciences] I am quoted, “Always leave on good terms.” You may intern or start your career at one place then leave for a better opportunity, but it is a strange, small communications world that we work in, so always do your best work, and stay in touch with the people you work with. It is inevitable that you will cross paths with someone you’ve once worked with.”

McClenny: “You can’t always be the smartest person in the room, but you can always be the hardest working. People pay attention to your work ethic, and often that’s the most important thing. You’re not expected to know everything and having diversity of thought in the workplace is crucial for innovation. I never want to be the smartest person in the room and would always rather be surrounded by intelligent people that push me to be better (which Edelman does to me every single day). The times where I’ve felt uncomfortable or shy in challenging situations is where I have grown the most.”

Quinn: “Expose yourself to every opportunity that comes your way, even if you’re not interested in it. Being in all the open opportunities that are provided to you through The University of Alabama, I would not be where I am today without those fundamental building blocks that taught you everything you needed to know and equipped you with like-minded people. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, even if you haven’t done it before; it doesn’t mean you won’t excel at it.”

Rodi: “Network — a lot of people specifically in the advertising/PR industry are one tiny fish in a huge pond. There are so many people and agencies that if you want to get into those top agencies you must start as interns then transition into full-time. Start networking as soon as possible, and start making connections with people on LinkedIn and finding people within the sector you wish to be in. These connections can give you an insight that allows you to decide if this is where you wish to be.”

PR take-aways
Edelman has a specialized approach in partnering with businesses and organizations to “evolve, promote and protect their brand’s reputation.” Being an effective communicator and writer, paying close attention to detail, having strong work ethic, and thinking like a client are a few of the skills necessary to having success in public relations.

Edelman reported a revenue increase in 2021 making it the first $1 billion PR agency, fulfilling the title of giant in the PR world. Edelman’s commitment in allowing employees and clients to have the “freedom to be constantly curious” is undoubtedly true. As these Edelman employees attest, Edelman makes its staff members a priority and allows them to have freedom and flexibility within the workplace.

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