Brand strategy, crisis management, leadership, and comms for a post-COVID world

March 31, 2021

Brand strategy, crisis management, leadership, and comms for a post-COVID world

Russell Dubner

President & CEO, U.S., Edelman

Russell Dubner, CEO of Edelman’s United States Operations, sat down for a wide-ranging discussion with Willy Walker.

In the latest Walker Webcast, Willy sat down with Russell Dubner, CEO of Edelman’s United States Operations, a role he has held since 2014. Previously, Russell was President of Edelman New York. He attended Franklin and Marshall College where he played soccer, wrestled and played tennis. He holds an MBA from Columbia Business School and started at Edelman in 1992, making 30 years with the company.


Edelman is a global communications firm that partners with businesses and organizations to evolve, promote and protect their brands reputation. Over 6,000 people in more than 60 locations worldwide deliver communication strategies that allow their clients to lead and act with certainty. When Russell joined Dubner, it was nothing close to the powerhouse it is today. However, Russell recalls their ambition, which has been contagious from the beginning. This ambition ultimately drew him to the company. It was working for the Mexican Government around the time of NAFTA when Russell found his first major success with the company.

When working for a company selling a wide range of products, Edelman is able to find them a unified branding strategy. This is achieved by identifying the customer base and then engaging them in a fun, relatable way. With the rise of online media, the way companies spend their media budget has shifted since the start of the decade. Russell explains many companies now have hired journalists to create their own digital publishing platforms. He then outlines the aspects in traditional media which are dying, and the rise of a new flourishing side of media. It is becoming increasingly popular for social media influencers to be the face of a brand.

The main qualifications for making communication and advertisement strategy effective is to embed something that is both experiential and authentic. Russell recalls Edelman’s work with companies such as Activision, REI and Tough Mudder and reveals how they managed to engage the respective audiences. Then, Russell offers his advice for people looking to start or build a brand. He stresses that trust in a company itself is equally important as trust in the products they sell. In today’s age, it’s also important for a brand’s values and morals to shine through. 

Then, they discuss the degradation of institutional trust in the United States. Business and employers now commonly hold more trust than politicians or journalists. Seeing as politics in America today is such a divisive topic, Edelman usually advises clients to remain respite from public political discourse. Instead, they may focus on living their values. They refer to Dove as a brand that doesn’t shy away from letting their core values shine in their advertisements, evident in their latest campaign Pledge for Paternity Leave.

Edelman’s recent research shows that America is still in a state of trauma following the pandemic. While there is an undercurrent of optimism, people are still feeling hindered from returning to normal life. Russell lays out a few ways businesses can accelerate a successful return. He predicts a boost to be on the horizon, though it is likely to be a delayed response. Throughout the pandemic, Edelman was reliant on local health authorities to determine their next steps and expect a return to the office to happen sometime early fall.

In closing, Russell shares his advice for leaders and CEOs who are readily anticipating a return to work. It is essential for them to be compassionate and understanding towards their employees. Additionally, leaders should be the optimist, realist and motivator. Finally, they revisit the concept of trust, then Russell relays the mindset of Edelman’s most progressive clients.


Learn more about Edelman by visiting their website.

Connect with Russell Dubner.

Learn more about Willy Walker and connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Read Transcript

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