PR Advice From a Legend

PR Advice From a Legend

Harold Burson is still active and offering valuable insight to issues involving PR

By Dick Martin


martin1You know you’re getting old when you go to an industry conference and one of the only people you know practically invented the industry in question. That happened to me not too long ago, and the person in question was Harold Burson, who is now 93 and still sharp of mind, if less sprightly of body than he once was. Harold is the co-founder of the giant Burson-Marsteller public relations firm and counted AT&T among his clients for many years.

I probably wouldn’t turn to Harold for advice on search-engine optimization or on the relative merits of Java and C++. But on the bigger questions of communications, few people are clearer thinkers.

Take the basic question of what public relations is all about. Practitioners and academics have offered so many definitions that some people suggest that it’s more profitable to let a thousand flowers bloom. Harold doesn’t have much patience for that laissez-faire doctrine.

“PR is an applied social science,” he says, “focused on two things: behavior and communications. The big problem these days, he went on to say, is that we spend too much time on communication and not enough on behavior, and that’s why the public distrusts our institutions so much.

Think of the companies and brands that would benefit from that advice.

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