Edelman Worldwide: The Dark Side?

This post is part of a series about a class trip to Seattle. 

Day 2 and it still hasn’t stopped raining. We wake up too early and destroy complimentary breakfast and head downtown to the Seattle newsroom of Edelman, a worldwide public relations and marketing firm. Absolutely nobody has done research on Edelman, but by God we know where to find doughnuts. 

After a parking fiasco we file into a swanky office building near the Belltown part of Seattle. Marty directs us to go to the 24th floor, and we discover it’s the top. What!

We stumble out of the elevator and are immediately struck by the gorgeous view. In the style of modern buildings, mixed concrete and carpet floors lead to full-length windows on all sides. Maude and superfluous office furniture is everywhere, and the office has a futuristic vibe. There are no cubicles.

Landscapes

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Young attractive people work at standing desks and laugh together. None of the guys are wearing ties and most women aren’t wearing high heels. There’s a huge community kitchen with a free Keurig. We drool.

In retrospect, this was a defining moment. Look at the place you could work. Look at the pretty people. Look at the pretty view. This could all be yours. 

Mizzou alum Cherylynne Crowder greets us and takes us into a side room for a frank discussion. We stand around half-constructed desks as she explains the office space is new. That’s probably why she didn’t lead us to a conference room.

So what do all these young people do, exactly?

In discussions about storytelling, brand trust and understanding trends, we discover Edelman is a PR firm through and through.

“I’m always thinking about the next new trend,” Crowder says, “Just the same as journalists, we’re always looking for the next new story.”

Her lessons sound vaguely familiar. “We need utility infielders – you have to be the next Renaissance person,” she says to a question about skills. “I have about 12 seconds to get the journalist’s attention.”

She goes on to discuss the changing nature of communication.

“For decades people yelled at the TV – now we’re closing the loop,” she says. Direct to consumer marketing is bringing people closer to the brands they love and boy, does it sound a whole lot like journalism.

She discusses the Trust Barometer.

“Media isn’t very highly trusted,” she says.

Two guys walk up to the group. One turns around a computer to reveal a MS Paint drawing of “Go Mizzou Tigers!” The mafia is everywhere. 

Rob, a young account executive in a plaid shirt, steps forward. He goes on to describe the storytelling he gets to do, all the multiplatform and emerging technology he uses. A story is told about a photographer that gets to swim with Great White sharks.

“What are the new ways we can tell familiar stories?” he says, referencing brand identities on various platforms.

He sounds like a journalist, but he isn’t. It’s perplexing. I challenge him.

“A lot of people, especially in our newsrooms at Mizzou, consider what you do to be the “dark side” of journalism,” I say. “What would you say to those people?”

He grins through frustration, like this is an argument he’s tired of making.

“I take pride in my skill set,” he says, “I’m a storyteller at heart, and I gotta make a living. If journalism can’t help you tell stories, find the channels that can.”

Another executive, Tyler, who just finished describing helping Microsoft start an Instagram, shares his perspective.

“In this job you get to work for stuff you believe in,” he says. “I don’t pitch stuff I don’t believe in.”

Rob closes his part with some strong words.

“Journalism is not the only place to do good.”

Exhausted from standing, we go for a tour around the building and head out. Quotes ring through my head.

Journalism is not the only place to do good. If Journalism can’t help you tell stories, find the channels that can. I take pride in my skill set. Media isn’t very highly trusted. 

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