Richard Edelman on why you can’t be a CEO from behind your desk

 

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Last week I was lucky enough to be representing Ireland in the inaugural Young Lions PR Competition. While the competition took up a lot of my time I also went to see a few of the speakers and presentations. One of the standout presentations came from Richard Edelman giving a master class lecture in the Young Lions Zone.

As the head of the world’s largest PR firm Richard is a master communicator and had the crowd hanging on every word of his presentation, “You can’t be CEO from behind a desk”. Broken down to its simplest parts the presentation serves as an invaluable playbook on running a successful PR agency.

You have to work on clients. ALWAYS

Richard summed it up with this truism for agency work: “If you are not leading from the front, you are not leading.” If you want to lead a company you should be getting stuck into client work otherwise you’re just a number cruncher and glad-hander. As the boss you should always seek to build relationships throughout the client structure if possible. Another tip in this area is to work on clients and projects you may not know as well. Richard cited an example of working on Samsung as he felt that technology was passing him by.

Give your direct reports a LOT of autonomy

Richard advocates a rope approach. Give them enough rope so they can make it or not. However, he stressed the importance of time. For some reason, no matter how qualified the candidate is, there will always be first year rockiness. With direct reports never micro manage. It is also important to talk about the work and not about the cost of the work. If you are a boss who worries excessively about money then your reports will too and this is a surefire way to kill creativity. Talk work and people will be properly oriented. Let the CFO worry on money.

Trust but verify

Trust what your reports say but always go visit. Richard advocates regularly meeting clients and visiting the various Edelman offices around the world. He uses client meetings to identify problems that he may otherwise not be aware of.

Be a public communicator

Edelman is a big believer in this. Let people hear your views and therefore evaluate them to gain a sense of the style of business that you will conduct. Richard’s blog 6 A.M. is a prime example of this. Not only does it allow numerous stakeholders (staff, clients, peers, potential clients etc) to get an insight into his beliefs and thought processes it also allows him to build relationships with people in the industry he normally wouldn’t. He cited 20 year old students here as an example of the audience he communicates with through the blog. Edelman also believes that being an open communicator builds trustworthiness with a wide range of publics.

Martyn is an Account Manager with Wilson Hartnell, the Irish office of Ogilvy PR. He blogs on all things PR here. You can follow Martyn on Twitter at @martynrosney.

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