Edelman PR is making an investment in research—a move the entire industry will want to watch.
The world’s biggest public relations firm on Wednesday announced that Michael J. Berland will lead a new research and analytic business called Edelman Berland, which will include the company’s established research entity StrategyOne.
Berland most recently served as the president of Penn Schoen Berland.
The new business will integrate a research component into the work the firm does in the five regions where it operates—Latin America, Canada, U.S., Asia Pacific, and Europe/Middle East/Africa—to help determine whether PR efforts have influenced behavior and changed attitudes.
“It’s a different kind of research model,” CEO Richard Edelman told PR Daily
According to Edelman, StrategyOne has spent the past 14 years performing research for corporate reputation and public affairs. “We want to do that, and we want to do more brand-oriented work,” Edelman said, later adding: “[Clients] have been getting their [research] elsewhere, and that drives me crazy. … We can do this for our clients.”
The investment in research and analytics is similar to Edelman’s investment in digital media, which in a matter of years has become an $80 million-plus business for the firm, representing 12.5 percent of its revenue, according to Edelman.
Edelman said that expanding research—and digital—on a global scale represents the company’s next big play. “I got a note from my guy in China [saying], ‘Please, please can we open up an Edelman Berland in China?’” he said.
One of the biggest names in the PR measurement business, Katie Paine
, said her analytics business has seen rapid growth in the last couple of years, roughly 40 percent a year.
“I think that research is finally getting its due,” she told PR Daily
. “It’s always been an incredible important part of public relations. In an era of big data, everyone is using research for something.”
Paine said that a challenge Edelman might face is a lack of talent in the world of PR measurement. While StrategyOne (and other big firms) counts numerous talented professionals among its staff (as Paine quipped, “Some of the best people I've trained work at StrategyOne”), Paine said there are few really talented research people who can look at reams of data and connect the dots.
Although there's certainly no lack of talent at the top of Edelman Berland.
Edelman described Berland—the man who will lead this effort—as having run “the biggest show” in the field. “I like him personally,” he said, adding that both attended Chicago’s Latin School some years ago.
Berland, a 20-year veteran of the research industry, has worked with corporate clients including BP and Research in Motion. He has served as strategic advisor to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and worked with Hillary Clinton during her 2006 Senate and 2008 presidential campaigns.
“I look forward to building real-time research tools at Edelman Berland that capture and share insights from social media, instant connections, and online communities to help our clients develop the most effective campaigns,” Berland said in a press release.
In a conversation with PR Daily
on Wednesday, he described the move as “a huge commitment to the discipline.”
The new hire, newly named division, and new investment in research and analytics also offer a strategy for luring money away from advertising agencies, says Edelman.
“To move large amounts of money across the line from advertising to PR, we are going to have to prove out what we do more … and show we’ve actually changed attitudes,” he said.
Over the next 90 days, Berland and others will identify opportunities and investments in people and tools. Translation: The company might be ramping up its hiring.
“We intend to have a very impressive growth plan,” Edelman said. “We already have 100 people in research. That’s for an $18 million business. Hopefully, it will get bigger than that.”
Asked whether Edelman's aggressive growth plan is a threat to her business, Paine acknowledged that she felt some sense of alarm, but quickly noted that she never competed with Edelman.
“In some ways it puts them more in my face,” she said. “But the people who will be in trouble are the ones that don’t do research—the ones that just do monitoring or sentiment analysis—those are the people it’s going to hurt.”