Daniel Edelman; pioneered celebrity endorsements, 92

Mr. Edelman hired Nolan Ryan for an Advil ad, and promoted California wines.
Edelman Public Relations
Mr. Edelman hired Nolan Ryan for an Advil ad, and promoted California wines.

NEW YORK — Daniel J. Edelman, who built one of the world’s top public relations companies and pioneered celebrity endorsements and promotional tours, has died at age 92.

Mr. Edelman is credited with developing many of the methods now standard in the field, after transforming the firm he started more than 60 years ago with two people into a global marketing force with more than 4,500 employees in 66 offices worldwide.

His son Richard Edelman said he died of heart failure Jan. 15 at a Chicago hospital.


Richard Edelman, president and chief executive of the Edelman firm, said his father was ‘‘a marketing and public relations genius, because he really understood that PR could sell brands.’’

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The company’s clients include Microsoft, Pfizer, Walmart, and Royal Dutch Shell.

Daniel Edelman, a New York City native and Columbia University journalism school graduate, worked as a reporter and editor for newspapers in Poughkeepsie, about 75 miles north. He was drafted into the US Army during World War II and first honed his public relations skills analyzing German propaganda as a member of a psychological warfare unit.

‘‘I provided information about what they were claiming, so we could answer it with our own broadcasts,’’ he later recalled.

After the war, he worked as a newswriter for CBS radio in New York.


His career in public relations began as a publicist for Musicraft Records, whose stars included singer Mel Torme, sponsored on radio by the maker of Toni hair care products.

Mr. Edelman credited that pairing with launching his marketing creativity:

He packaged Torme’s ­records in an album designed to look like a Toni product, gaining attention from disc jockeys and earning him a job as Toni’s public relations director in Chicago.

By the 1960s, Mr. Edelman’s own company was promoting California’s wine industry. Mr. Edelman retained movie star Vincent Price as a spokesman and booked him on ‘‘The Tonight Show’’ with Johnny Carson. California wines that day won a tasting test that included entertainer Zsa Zsa Gabor.

‘‘It was a great coup and a turning point for the California wine industry,’’ Mr. Edelman said later.


Mr. Edelman also hired baseball great Nolan Ryan for Advil and activist Gloria Steinem to promote birth control pills.

Then, his son said, he would ‘‘put people on the road,’’ pushing the concept of media tours using ­radio and television.

And Daniel Edelman had a sense of humor. Promoting a crabmeat company, he persuaded Carson to invite the owner on his show, along with a crab that promptly bit Carson’s hand.

When former Massachusetts governor Michael S. Dukakis announced he was running for president, Mr. Edelman proved that Morris the Cat, representing the 9Lives cat food brand, had higher name recognition.

Kentucky Fried Chicken took center stage on television during Elizabeth Taylor’s lavish 1991 wedding to construction worker Larry Fortensky.

Reporters were barred from the ceremony, so Mr. ­Edelman arranged for a KFC executive to show up outside dressed as the late Colonel Sanders, serving reporters chicken they jokingly mentioned during broadcasts.

‘‘You can’t make these stories up,’’ Richard Edelman said. ‘‘My father had these kinds of ideas.’’

Even after Daniel Edelman stopped running the firm more than a dozen years ago, he still called his son daily to find out what was happening and give advice.