David Finkelstein was born to a father who was a writer and a mother who created children’s dresses. He adopted his father’s pen name and went by the last name of Finn. He graduated from the City College of New York and served in the military during World War II.
Three years after graduating from college, he joined forces with Bill Ruder to create the Ruder Finn public relations agency. He remained CEO of the firm for 70 years until his death at age 100. The Ruder Finn agency is generally considered to be a pioneer in public relations. In addition to being a pioneer in public relations, David helped set the tone for stakeholder capitalism which maintains that corporations need to serve the needs of all stakeholders including customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders, and communities where they are located.
David, from the beginning, only took on projects he believed in. Some of these efforts included rallying support for the nuclear test ban treaty, promoting ready.gov, a website for disaster preparedness, supporting recycling initiatives, and launching medical advances.
His focus was on helping organizational leaders communicate in a way that makes their messages connect with common citizens. He was an advisor to many U.S. Presidents (both Democrats and Republicans). He also represented foreign governments. The theme of his work with business focused on corporate social responsibility.
In addition to his public relations work, David was also a renowned photographer of sculpture. His photographs and historical narratives of sculpture helped those who could not afford to see the works in person appreciate the sculpture as three-dimensional objects in space.
When we think of public relations, we often think of sleazy companies designed to manipulate our thinking. That was not the vision and practice of David Finn. In an age when truth no longer seems to be a valued personal or organizational asset, socially responsible communications are becoming more and more critical.
Just imagine the consequences when the public no longer believes anything they hear and see. When conspiracies become more believable to some than the truth. When demagogues get away with telling the big lie. The vision of David Finn is needed more than ever to restore faith in public communications.
* * *
“We all are storytellers and not story makers.” – David Finn