Public relations giant Edelman lays out its plan to gobble up more advertising clients with data and analytics

Public relations giant Edelman lays out its plan to gobble up more advertising clients with data and analytics thumbnail
  • Edelman is expanding its data analytics unit and releasing new tools to win share from ad agencies.
  • The PR firm plans to release a platform to help clients fight false information.
  • It’s also automating the process of identifying which journalists to pitch stories to.
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For years, public relations has lagged behind advertising and marketing in data and analytics.

Now, Edelman, the world’s largest independently owned PR firm, is shoveling resources into these areas to compete for advertising budgets.

Over the past few months, this effort has led to new work for clients like the Washington Nationals, medical tech company Hologic, and computer hardware giant HP. Edelman hopes the new work will help offset a reported 5.7% year-over-year drop in 2020 revenue, to $840 million.

The firm named its first global chief data analytics officer, Yannis Kotziagkiaouridis, to head its new, 350-person Edelman Data and Intelligence group. It’s also poached vets from Wunderman Thompson, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google.

Edelman is adding tools and products from data vendors like Dynata and Neustar to help clients monitor media, measure campaigns, and develop strategies — tasks that PR agencies have historically outsourced to software vendors like Cision and Meltwater.

Edelman’s bet is that combining data and intelligence capabilities with its traditional business of advising clients on communications issues can win it more assignments.

“We’re applying new technology and methodology to understand trust in real time across geographies and audiences and to understand the drivers of trust,” Kotziagkiaouridis said. “You have tech companies trying to solve some data problems and you have companies like Edelman who are good at advising clients. What we see as a unique opportunity is the ability to bring these two things together.”

Edelman is launching a disinformation platform

Through a partnership with AI company Yonder, Edelman plans to launch a platform at the end of the month to show how false information starts online and hurts clients’ reputations and advise clients on how to respond.

The agency is also automating some of the manual work its employees do with a tool called Atlas, which helps figure out which journalists to pitch — work that could previously take hours.

“This is a case for bringing a ‘Moneyball’ approach to PR,” said Tim Hwang, global head of product at Edelman Data and Intelligence. “Atlas allows us to look at the data to see who is engaging with what content online and apply an algorithm to identify at high speed who are the journalists that will get the audiences you want to get to.”

Edelman is on a hiring spree

Edelman courted Kotziagkiaouridis for two years before hiring him and has poached at least three execs from Wunderman Thompson. Kotziagkiaouridis had worked at WPP’s Wunderman Thompson as chief analytics officer and built a data management platform that helped the agency launch new products and tools.

The agency’s other top hires for the Data and Intelligence group include:

  • Tim Hwang, global head of product
  • David Bartram Shaw, global head of data science 
  • Rachel Glasser, chief counsel for data and privacy 

Edelman Data and Intelligence also promoted Matt Sato and Anjuli Bedi, who were execs from research firm Edelman Intelligence, which it absorbed; and hired more than 50 product organization and predictive intelligence experts from companies like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google.

Its data analytics gamble coincides with an aggressive push into creative

Edelman also built a 600-person creative and planning team, led by ad vets like former Leo Burnett exec Judy John and McCann vet Lee Maicon.

As an illustration of how much Edelman is doubling down on its new agency offerings, the agency’s parent company, Daniel J. Edelman Holdings, in late 2020 issued shares to John, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission disclosure, making her a principal at a firm that’s historically been family owned.

However, these new investments follow years of slowing revenue growth and pandemic-related losses, and skeptics question if Edelman’s bets will pay off — especially since creative and digital have historically clashed when brought together at agencies like Wunderman Thompson. 

Meanwhile, other agencies and holding companies aren’t standing still. MDC Partners launched a new venture called Prophet, which analyzes journalists’ coverage to predict which ones PR pros should pitch to. And Omnicom Public Relations Group launched OmniearnedID to help its PR agencies prove its campaigns drive results.

CEO Richard Edelman refuted the idea that creative and data analytics can’t mesh at his agency. 

“Building data from scratch into the organization has eliminated the issues that come with mixing two different cultures,” he said. “And the idea of blending assumes we see those two things as very different, in my view when done right data and creativity feed from each other and are inseparable.”


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