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Wise Words from Harold Burson

Posted At: April 12, 2007 10:38 AM

by Jennifer Mitchell

Burson-Marsteller is one of the leading public relations and public affairs firms in the world. It formed when Harold Burson merged his public relations firm with Bill Marsteller’s advertising agency in the early 1950s. Due to that merger and years of excellent business that followed, Burson has become one of the biggest names in PR. With 50 years’ experience in the field, he shares some of his thoughts here.

Burson on Ethics

“Doing the right thing.”

To some, ethics is a complex area constantly debated in the hopes of establishing more concrete guidelines. To Burson, it’s just one more part of the business that involves daily commitment.

While some have felt pressure to make good ethical decisions, Burson doesn’t recall many challenging times. He credits this to making good business decisions.

“We have avoided situations where I felt it may not be the right thing to do [because] we decided to make good, sound business decisions through the years,” Burson said.

He added that good business decisions imply good ethical conduct, and his standards for making these decisions are as simple as his definition of ethics:

• Tell the truth to the extent that you possibly know what the truth is.
• Treat people fairly, as you would like to be treated.
• Be fully transparent if you can.
• Be honest and have integrity.
• Don’t do anything that would embarrass clients or employees.

Burson also said that his company continues to operate “on the long-term basis as opposed to the short-term opportunism.”

“Do not do anything in the short-term, no matter how opportunistic it is, that would compromise your long-term record,” he said, “because that is what you’re going to be judged on.”

Burson on the Job

“I think people in college should start thinking in terms of developing a network that they can call on 10, 15, 20 years from now.”

When networking, you should keep in contact with people you find who share common interests, or with whom you identify or connect. Burson said that this does take time and effort to keep up with people, but it is vital to a career in PR.

Burson also said it is important to just get along with people.

“Working with other people entails a lot of give and take,” Burson said, “and some people aren’t willing to make the compromises that one has to in order to be part of a team.”

At Burson-Marsteller, he said, “we prize the individual but we celebrate the team.”

Burson expressed concern at seeing writing skills deteriorate over the years. His last words of wisdom are to “become competent writers and [have] the ability to communicate thoughts vocally.”

Harold Burson’s blog

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