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“It’s time for PR to lead” highlights from keynote address by Richard Edelman, President & CEO Edelman, at the WPRF

November 30, 2012


Richard Edelman, President and CEO of Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm, delivered a keynote presentation at the World Public Relations Forum (WPRF) via videoconference on Tuesday, 20 November 2012. He could not be in Melbourne, Australia, on the day as his father Dan is unwell. This post outlines the key insights from his speech titled “Our time to lead”.      


Richard Edelman believes “it’s PR’s time to lead” because the world has changed, he presented the following reasons why:


  • Deterioration of trust in traditional institutions: Since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-9 trust in business collapsed and the public turned to government. Soon after, trust in government also declined (see Edelman Trust Barometer), leaving “a person like yourself” three times more likely to be trusted than a government official or CEO.
    Richard believes that the traditional top-down method of communication, managed by a small group of elites has shifted to a different sphere of influence where consumers, employees and social activists are key stakeholders who are more trusted by their peers.
  • Decentralization of power from traditional media to social and hybrid sources: In his speech, Richard stated that social and digital media have become the most popular source of news information after TV, above print newspapers and radio.
    He went on to say that storytelling in the media is interconnected across multiple platforms with mainstream, hybrid, digital, social and owned elements, with consumers floating between each. The nature of news consumption has changed, instead of receiving news morning and night, people are ‘snacking’ on news by jumping across TV, tablet, laptop and Smartphone.
  • Emergence of a new pyramid of influence: Through new technologies, peers are more likely to tell the truth than traditional news sources. Richard explained that influence has shifted from the hands of few to the fingertips of a “Smartphone empowered citizenry”.



Richard used the keynote to talk about this complexity and his desire for the PR industry to move beyond ‘perception management’ and begin to play in the space of ‘changing reality’ through Public Engagement, which has five principals:


  1. Bottom-Up—Actively listen to regular people and recognize that everybody from employee to consumer is an activist now, even if only to their own network of friends and followers
  2. Be Social—Participate in the always-on conversation. Every company or institution should be a media company, generating content that can be shared across the entire media cloverleaf
  3. Be Radically Transparent—Companies must establish goals, then report regularly on achievements or areas for improvement
  4. Values-led—Institutions should lead on the basis of principles, not by compliance with the law. We should exceed public expectations and take on the major daily issues
  5. Rooted in Action—Our job is to advise on policy as well as communications, to deliver measurable impact


The four key outcomes of Public Engagement that Richard shared were: Increased Trust; Deeper Communities; Behavior Change and Commercial Success. He believes these outcomes will help companies to achieve long-term business objectives, and will allow PR to lead not by shaping perception but by changing reality.





Richard Edelman is the president and CEO of the world’s largest public relations firm with 66 offices and 4,500 employees worldwide. The firm was recently named “PR Agency of the Decade” by both Advertising Age and The Holmes Report and “Large Agency of the Year” by PRWeek US for the third year in a row.


Richard has extensive experience in marketing and reputation management. He was named the fifth most powerful executive by PRWeek in 2012. Richard is regarded as an industry thought leader and posts weekly to his blog, 6 A.M.





Disclaimer: The author of this post Katie Sheppet works at Edelman Melbourne, the views in this post are her own.