How to keep acting like a startup after reaching the top

How the world's leading PR firm intends to stay hungry.

What happens when an "outsider" firm eventually becomes number one in its market? How does it stay hungry and disruptive?

That's the dilemma incurred by Edelman, currently the world's largest PR firm, spelled out in a report from Arun Sudhaman at the Holmes Report, who credits the corporate culture of Edelman with its continuing success in maintaining a global brand. Of course, not every company can, or should, run itself like a PR agency. But Edelman's accumulated business experience provides some important lessons in keeping the creative and innovative juices flowing.

The firm has always prided itself on running on "organized chaos" -- with a little bit of paranoia thrown in. And that's how management intends to keep it.

The $750-million-a-year company has tripled in size in recent years, and is forecasted to have grown almost 13% in 2013. However, complacency is the company's major threat.

Sudhaman credits the following strategies to Edelman's continued growth:

Stick to its core business: The firm has avoided the temptation to acquire and load up its portfolio with related types of businesses, such as advertising. Many of its competitors are holding companies with multiple types of services under one roof. "PR is actually an attitude, it's not just a service line," Richard Edelman, the firm's chairman, is quoted as saying.

Hire the best, in terms of both talent and fit, and keep them close to the customer: Every employee and new hire needs to be tied into billable client work. Edelman "believes that client work makes his people 'inordinately practical' and 'core to the culture,'" Sudhaman relates.

Be willing to take calculated risks: Edelman was one of the first PR firms to venture into the digital realm, and an impressive part of its business is now tied to social media support.

Promote "organized chaos": Markets and opportunities are constantly changing, and management isn't always in a position to see what's going on. Richard Edelman understands this, and "likes everyone telling him what to do."

(Thumbnail photo: Joe McKendrick.)

This post was originally published on