by Neil Hershberg, Senior Vice President, Global Media/Business Wire
They are part of what television journalist Tom Brokaw famously called “The Greatest Generation,” whose foresight and fortitude helped create an industry whose importance and influence continues to experience unbridled growth.
These pioneers of the public relations industry — Daniel J. Edelman, Lorry Lokey, and David Steinberg — shared much in common: deep journalistic roots that strongly influenced how they approached their professional careers; personal values that didn’t fluctuate with financial success; and bold visionary outlooks that helped transform modern communications.
Edelman’s recent passing provided pundits and practitioners alike the opportunity to reflect on his enormous contributions to an industry that he helped define. His legacy, Edelman, is today the world’s largest independent public relations agency, with 4,600 employees in 63 countries, and revenues of $660 million annually. Its scope and impact continue to expand exponentially, building upon the solid foundation that Edelman cast in 1952.
Edelman, along with such other industry trailblazers as Harold Burson, Al Golin, and David Finn, collectively laid the conceptual cornerstones for contemporary corporate communications, which today encompasses everything from marketing communications, to government relations, to investor outreach.
Many of the tributes written by Edelman’s colleagues and competitors paid particular homage to his strong sense of ethics, creativity, ambition, humility, and independence.
These timeless traits also characterized two other industry legends, both of whom I’ve had the privilege of working with: Lorry Lokey, the founder of Business Wire, and David Steinberg, the long-time president of PR Newswire.
While Edelman focused on refining and expanding the principles of public relations, Lokey and Steinberg are best known for building the platforms that provided the framework of today’s expansive global communications networks, or “newswires,” as they are commonly referred.
Like Edelman, Lokey and Steinberg also were accomplished journalists, with Steinberg winning the prestigious Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business Journalism in 1958 as a young reporter with The New York Herald Tribune. But they will primarily be remembered for creating the information pathways that integrally linked companies, the news media, and the financial markets. They helped set the stage for what eventually evolved into the SEC’s Regulation Fair Disclosure, which today ensures that all market participants have equal, simultaneous, and unrestricted access to market-moving information that may influence their investment decisions.
Business Wire’s CEO Cathy Baron Tamraz, who worked for Lokey for 26 years, often says that her former boss — and mentor — taught her many valuable lessons about the important role that newswires play in facilitating the news cycle, and the absolute importance of embracing new technologies to ensure effective communications.
“We function as the conduit between the company, the media, and the investment community,” said Tamraz. “It is therefore vital that we get our clients’ news out when they want and where they want it, and that our networks remain on the ‘bleeding edge’ technologically, reaching all market participants at the same time.”
“Lorry taught me to take this role very seriously, 24/7, 365 days a year,” Tamraz added. “We handle routine earnings and product launches, as well as obituaries, crises and just about any type of news that can and will move the markets.”
If the PR profession were to ever create a pantheon of industry icons, then Edelman, Lokey and Steinberg — along with fellow industry stalwarts Burson, Golin and Finn — should be enshrined as charter members.
Fueled primarily by passion and principle, these legends helped set the standards for an industry that has come to impact virtually every aspect, sector and geographic region of the world we live in.
While the public relations industry will always be in a state of perpetual evolution, it is important that we all take an occasional step back and recognize the enterprising men and women who had the courage and ability to turn their dreams into reality, and in the process helped create an industry of truly infinite possibilities.