Daniel Joseph Edelman: A Revolutionary in His Field

By Sam Kolodezh

Daniel Joseph Edelman (ΦBK, Columbia College, 1940) revolutionized the public relations industry. His life-long love of learning, spirit of inquiry and free expression, and honest ingenuity propelled him to previously unimagined heights and discoveries in the field of public relations.

Edelman was born July 3, 1920, in Manhattan, where he attended Columbia College and earned his master’s in journalism from Columbia University in 1941. After graduating, he worked for a year as a sports editor and reporter for Poughkeepsie, a New York newspaper. In 1942 he was drafted into the U.S. Army.

During World War II, Edelman was assigned to the intelligence unit of the 100th Infantry Division. It was there that Edelman was introduced to public relations. While traveling across the Atlantic, Edelman produced a daily newspaper for his fellow soldiers, reporting on the latest developments of the war he heard from the radio. In the intelligence unit, Edelman was assigned to the psychological warfare unit where he served in Verdun, writing analyses of German propaganda so that the U.S. could answer it with its own.

After the war, Edelman began working a nightshift as a news writer for CBS in New York. However, his career in public relations began when he became a publicist for Musiccraft Records, helping to promote jazz greats like Duke Elington, Sarah Vaughan, Artie Shaw, and Dizzy Gillespie.

Edelman’s revolutionary moment occurred when he decided to market the radio sponsor, Toni, a home hair care company, and Mel Torme together. He pushed to package Torme’s latest record in an album designed to look like the Toni Wave Kit. He was soon contacted by the Toni Company and moved to Chicago in 1947 to become their public relations director.

Toni had an ad campaign featuring identical twins, one with a beauty salon perm and the other with curls from a Toni do-it-yourself kit. Edelman’s idea was for six sets of twins to go on a media tour of seventy-two cities. From that moment, Edelman became a public relations mastermind and four years later began his own public relations firm with Toni as his first client.

Edelman went on to represent the California Wine Industry, pushing to replace company cocktail parties with wine tastings, the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, creating a free consumer hotline, in addition to representing Starkist, Sarah Lee, and other globally recognized companies and corporations.

The Edelman firm is now the world’s largest public relations firm, with 66 offices and over 4,500 employees worldwide, as well as affiliates in more than 30 cities. He received numerous awards in his lifetime for both his philanthropic and cultural contributions including Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s first annual Dean’s Medal for Professional Achievement and Public Service, and most recently, he became a member of the Hall of Fame of the International Communications Consultancy Organization.

Edelman’s work truly embodied the spirit of a liberal arts education ─ boldly pushing the boundaries of his field while combining different ways of thinking and knowing to create a remarkable and effective way of framing and managing information.

Daniel Joseph Edelman died at the age of 92 on January 15, 2013. He is survived by his son Richard, daughter Renee, wife Ruth Ann Rozumoff Edleman, and three granddaughters, Margot, Tory, and Amanda Edelman. The world will continue to be influenced by his public relations revolution, and the Phi Beta Kappa community will remember and continue to be inspired by his genius for innovation.

Sam Kolodezh is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and a senior at the University of Washington majoring in English and philosophy. The University of Washington is home to the Alpha of Washington chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.