The Business of Persuasion: Harold Burson on Public Relations

The Business of Persuasion: Harold Burson on Public Relations

by Harold Burson


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Much as Ogilvy wrote the bible on advertising, Burson has written the must-read book for the public relations industry.

Harold Burson, described by PRWeek as “the [20th] century’s most influential PR figure,” is perhaps the most recognized name in the industry today. The 96-year-old founder of PR giant Burson-Marsteller has had an incredible 70-year career, in which he built a global enterprise from a one-man consulting firm.

In this illuminating and engaging business memoir, Burson traces his career from studying at Ole Miss to serving in World War II, reporting on the Nuremburg trials, and joining with Bill Marsteller. Together, he and Marsteller made history in a new venture that would grow to be one of the biggest public relations companies in the world, with over 60 offices on six continents.

By way of personal and professional examples, Burson shows readers what public relations really entails—its challenges, methodologies, and impacts. His anecdotes on PR challenges like the “Tylenol crises,” the removal of confederate flags from Ole Miss, and the introduction of “New Coke” illustrate Burson’s time-tested tenets of great PR and crisis management. He interweaves iconic moments from the history of public relations into his story, making this a priceless and fascinating guide for professionals in any industry.

Public relations is practiced not only by every institution, but also by every individual. Throughout his ground-breaking career, which Burson describes as “a series of defining moments,” Burson set standards for corporate and individual behavior, insisting upon corporate social responsibility, product excellence, and unabated integrity. His legacy has shaped generations, and will shape many more to come.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780795350450
Publisher: RosettaBooks
Publication date: 10/03/2017
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 1,063,474
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Harold Burson is the co-founder of Burson-Marsteller, one of the largest public relations firms in the world. Born in 1921, Burson played a leading role in transforming the practice of PR from a cottage industry to a global enterprise over the course of the 20th century. He has been called “the [20th] century’s most influential PR figure” by PRWeek—a reflection of his role as a counselor for generations of CEOs, government officials, and public sector leaders.

Burson entered Ole Miss at age 15 and paid his way by serving as a campus correspondent for the Memphis Commercial Appeal. He later joined forces with Bill Marsteller to establish Burson-Marsteller in 1953, which today operates in 60-plus wholly owned offices on six continents.

He has received numerous awards from PR organizations including Hall of Fame designations by the Public Relations Society of America, PRWeek, PR News, and the Institute of Public Relations. He was awarded an honorary degree by Boston University in 1988, and a chair in PR was established in his name in 1995. He was also active in numerous public service organizations, principally the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He was chairman of the Council on Economic Education in the early 1990s and chaired the Private Sector Public Relations Advisory Committee for the US Information Agency during the terms of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He has been a Presidential appointee to the Commission on the Fine Arts, a member of the board of trustees for the Museum of the American Revolution, and a public relations advisor to President Reagan.

Harold Burson was married to Bette Foster Burson for 63 years. He has two sons and five grandchildren and lives in New York City. At the age of 96, he continues to appear in his office five days a week.

Table of Contents

1 Defining Dream, Defining Moments 11

The Right Parents, the Right Time 12

"In the Know" 17

"Call Me Ron." "Yes, Mr. President." 17

Telling My Story: A Note About the Manuscript 24

Takeaways 25

2 Making the Most of College 26

Working Through School Was My Real Education 27

My First Exposure to Publicity 28

Covering an SEC Football Game 29

Being a Generalist Cultivated All My Talents 31

Supervising Others and the Power of Delegating 34

Telling the Truth Got Me the Interview 35

Reporting on Controversies 38

My First Big Public Relations Campaign 39

Takeaways 46

3 From Journalism to Public Relations 48

Reporting on Wartime Construction Expansion 50

Keeping Clients in the Know 53

From Project Level to Corporate Public Relations 57

Crash Course in Corporate Politics 59

Countering Allegations With Facts 61

The Importance of Corporate Culture 65

Public Relations Is About Personal Relationships 66

Informing American Households 68

Takeaways 71

4 Developing Skills and Talent in the Army 72

Great Ideas Can Come From Anyone 74

My First Foray in Managing a Business 77

Calling on My Network for a New Job 79

The Press Camp: News and Boosting Morale 81

Takeaways 85

5 Big-Time: Reporting the Nuremberg Trial 86

Parlaying My Skills From Print to Radio 87

Reporting on a Most Unusual Event 91

The Biggest Story of My Career 93

Creative Challenges Upon Arrival 95

Defining My Role, My Goal, and My Audience 98

Takeaways 104

6 Starting My Business: My Entrepreneurial Plan 105

Defining Public Relations 108

Differentiation: The Business-to-Business Sector 110

The Wisdom of Professional Networks 113

Growing My Firm, Growing My Family 115

Navigating the Unexpected 118

A Life-Changing Referral 119

Rockwell and His Sikorsky Helicopter 121

Plan B: The Deltashop for Do-It-Yourselfers 122

A Second Referral 124

Takeaways 127

7 Integrated Communications 128

The Growth Plan for Our Global Service Agency 129

Account Acquisition: Growth Strategy 132

Pioneering a New Structure 133

Tooling Up to Serve Clark Equipment 135

Restaging Lincoln's Cooper Union Address 141

Preparing Gulf Managers for Crisis 143

Takeaways 145

8 Going Global: Growth Strategy II 146

Opening in Europe (1961) 147

At Last, an Office in London 149

Germany, France, Italy, and Spain 152

Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union 153

Opening in Asia (1973) 155

Hong Kong, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur 156

Tokyo 158

Beijing 161

Sydney and Melbourne 164

Opening in Latin America (1976) 165

India, the Middle East, and Africa 166

Takeaways 172

9 Broadening Services: Growth Strategy III 173

Expanding Into Government Relations 174

Keeping Clients in the Know 177

Acquiring Ted Sills in the Food Category 179

Landing Our First Major Consumer Account 181

Hiring Women, Putting My Foot in My Mouth 182

First Movers in Health Care and Pharmaceuticals 184

Creative Acquisition: Cohn & Wolfe 185

First Movers in Use of Technology 187

First Movers in Staff Graphics 188

Takeaways 190

10 Working With Clients 191

Dinner With Coca-Cola CEO Roberto Goizueta 192

Managing the Coca-Cola Relationship 193

The Worldwide Symbol of Corporate America 195

"Not That Dumb, Not That Smart": New Coke 196

How to Explain $80 Million 204

A Loss for Coca-Cola, a Personal Loss for Me 205

Public Relations Gets a Seat at the Table 206

Takeaways 208

11 Crisis Management and Controversial Cliends 209

Bad Day at Black Rock 210

Tylenol: Crisis Management Model 217

A Lesson in Crisis Prevention: DuPont 218

One We Didn't Win: The Asbestos Industry 220

Our Guidelines for Choosing Clients 222

Taking on a Controversial Government 224

Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu 226

Tragedy in India: the Bhopal Explosion 227

Takeaways 229

12 The Business Side of Public Relations 230

A Code of Conduct 231

Our Vision 233

Our Values 234

The Business Model of Public Relations 235

Hiring, Training, and Developing Talent 240

Advertising and Self-Promotion 242

Keeping Employees in the Know 243

New Business Development 244

Merrill Lynch: A Tradition of Trust 245

Los Angeles Olympic Torch Relay: AT&T 248

Takeaways 252

13 The Corporation's Role in Society 253

Models of Industry and Philanthropy 254

The Modern Corporation's Duties to Society 257

The Nature of the Corporation 260

Fair Return Versus Maximum Return 263

A New Social Contract 265

Takeaways 267

14 Public Service Is Good Business 268

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts 269

Commission on the Fine Arts 271

USIA Public Relations Advisory Committee 271

Council on Economic Education 272

Presidential Press Secretaries and Aides 274

Economic Club of New York 279

The Olympic Movement 281

Takeaways 284

15 Corporate Culture and CEO Succession 285

Making the Case for a Merger 289

Sizing Up Suitors: Y&R and O&M 291

A Common Purpose, a Cultural Fit 292

A Self-Assessment of My Tenure as CEO 294

My Management Style and My Team 297

My Successors as CEO 301

Takeaways 305

16 No Longer CEO: What Do You Do? 306

Working With David Rockefeller 307

After-Action Review of Exxon's Valdez Response 309

Our Greatest Tragedy: Why Tom Mosser? 310

United States Postal Service in a Digital Age 312

No More Rebel Flags on the Ole Miss Campus 316

A Museum for the American Revolution 325

Still Going to the Office 327

Takeaways 329

17 Leading a Global Organization 330

The Purpose of Recognition 331

The Changing Way of Doing Business 333

The Macro Situation 334

The Future of Public Relations 336

My Advice to Aspiring CEOs 340

Takeaways 343

18 Postscript: The Role of Family 344

Bette Foster Burson: 1925-2010 346

My Love Affair With Westies 349

Final Thanks 354

Index 358

What People are Saying About This

Karen Hughes

“Harold Burson is to persuasion what Socrates was to wisdom.”
—Karen Hughes, counselor to the president for President George W. Bush

Rina McCorkindale

“Inspiring from start to finish, Harold Burson, the godfather of public relations, takes readers on a compelling and fascinating journey by chronicling pivotal moments in his career and offering meaningful takeaways of lessons learned. Essential read for every student, academic, and practitioner!”
—Rina McCorkindale, president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations

Jack Welch

"A must read for any PR professional!"
—Jack Welch, executive chairman, Jack Welch Management Institute

Tina McCorkindale

“Inspiring from start to finish, Harold Burson, the godfather of public relations, takes readers on a compelling and fascinating journey by chronicling pivotal moments in his career and offering meaningful takeaways of lessons learned. Essential read for every student, academic, and practitioner!”
—Tina McCorkindale, president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations

Donald K. Wright

“This is the book everyone in public relations hoped Harold Burson would write. A comprehensive chronicling of Harold Burson’s phenomenal experiences on a fabulous journey from solo practitioner to the world’s most accomplished communications executive.”
—Donald K. Wright, Harold Burson professor of public relations, College of Communication, Boston University

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