PRAOY Gold: Edelman’s trust in the process

A "communications marketing" approach and boosting internal talent has put the agency on the podium.
Edelman - Agency Photo

Edelman uses this image as a calling card to illustrate the agency’s flexibility.

This article appears in the November/December 2017 issue of strategy.

The Edelman Trust Barometer released its 17th annual survey in February, but it was the first time the findings around eroding trust it had been hinting at for years were self-evident. Donald Trump was in the White House. Fake news had played a role in getting him there. “Post-truth” was the Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year for 2016.

Edelman Canada president and CEO Lisa Kimmel says the barometer crystallized some of the shifting dynamics that had prompted the PR firm (with offices in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary and Ottawa) to develop its approach to “communications marketing” back in 2014. The collapsing trust in institutions was leading to the dispersion of authority from the top down to peer-to-peer conversations, she says. There was also the upheaval in traditional advertising and the implosion of mainstream media.

It’s fitting that Edelman’s rise to PR AOY Gold coincides with the concerns it started responding to back in 2014 becoming global preoccupations. The shop’s shift to a “communications marketing” approach looked at how to address the changing world by boosting the agency’s creative, strategy, and insights and analytics offerings.

Today, the agency puts a client strategist at the centre of the work. Based on the problem that needs to be solved, the strategist assembles a team on a client-by-client basis, drawing from the agency’s 15-member creative team or the eight-person insights and analytics team, as well as from the more traditional PR side.

“It’s not looking at how we’re going to approach earned media and then tacking things on after the fact,” Kimmel says. “It’s right at the outset of planning that we ensure we have the right people at the table to deliver on the client needs.”

Edelman’s shift in 2014 meant that it was able to offer campaigns better suited to today’s current landscape.

“The nature of the work that we’re doing for clients has just exploded,” Kimmel says. “Our clients are seeing us in a different way than they have historically. As a result of that, and because of the investments that we’ve made diversifying the kind of talent that we now have at Edelman, our remits are much broader.”

Edelman’s work for HP, which won a Bronze Lion in Cannes and a Silver Clio (the PR shop also entered the campaign into strategy’s AOY competition), represents the “proof of concept around our communications marketing aspirations,” Kimmel says. Built around an 18-minute documentary about a reformed hacker, the integrated campaign allowed the brand to become a thought leader on cyber security.

The campaign included traditional PR elements, such as enlisting Michael “Mafiaboy” Calce, the former Montreal teen hacker, to speak at industry events. But the centerpiece was the documentary, which premiered at the Hot Docs film festival, allowing Edelman to stage a stunt around the event.

“That’s not something Edelman would have done three years ago, but it’s what we are doing today,” CCO Andrew Simon told strategy earlier this year. “And clients are saying they want more of that and aren’t resigning us to solely doing PR work. They want great ideas and for us to run with them.”

Another example is the agency’s work for the Alberta Securities Commission. The educational campaign used a fake investment company to host a seminar and reinforce its fraud prevention message. Midway through a presentation about worry-free retirement and guaranteed investment returns, the sham investment guru revealed the ruse. The campaign video included testimonials from those who had been duped.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Edelman has seen more work in crisis and risk management, particularly around data security and privacy, Kimmel says.

Going forward, the agency wants more work as the lead agency for both marketing and communications. And more clients want what the agency provided on the HP “In the Head of a Hacker” campaign, Kimmel says. Its success is helping Edelman demonstrate what it’s capable of.

Now it’s a matter of spreading the word – something it should already be pretty good at.

“Don’t forget the fact that we are a PR agency,” Kimmel says she tells her staff. “We need to do exactly what we advise our clients to do in terms of promoting the Edelman brand and the work that we do.”

New Business
Berkshire Hathaway Energy Canada, Calgary Zoo, Goodlife Fitness, Hydro-Quebec, KFC, Maple Leaf Foods, Nissan North Americas, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, StubHub, Teva Canada, Toronto Hydro Corporation, Vancouver Aquarium

Key hires
Julia Cartwright, SVP, HR; Kelly Hutchinson, VP, technology; Pierre Choquette, VP, public affairs



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ClientJohnson & Johnson Inc.’s NICORETTE® Partnership with DartGuy


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ClientTaco Bell Canada


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