Burson-Marsteller Founder Says PR Needs to Regain Its ‘Moral Purpose’


You may have already noticed the headline of this PR Week interview with Harold Burson, the Burson-Marsteller founder universally known as one of the industry’s “godfathers.”

Of course you should read the whole thing, but we’ll throw out a couple of teasers.

  • Burson says PR “is synonymous with persuasion”, making the discipline as old as the act of communicating itself
  • While he bristles at Rachel Maddow’s description of his firm as “evil”, Burson does express regret for representing certain foreign governments in the past and notes that he turned down other controversial clients such as the NRA
  • He blames the focus on maximum ROI for stockholders for eroding the sense of public responsibility once held by big businesses
  • He believes that the Nixon administration first brought serious harm to the discipline by “[using] the phrase ‘PR’ as a solution to a problem they couldn’t otherwise solve”
  • Finally, Burson believes that PR risks forgetting its own reason for being if it emphasizes the act of delivering a given message in every case over inspiring positive behavioral change—and, for that reason, he finds the term “communications” limiting

The full interview is only available to subscribers, but PR Week UK has a preview here.

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@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.