by Michelle Emokpae.
On March 7, City College students got the opportunity to meet Harold Burson, often referred to as the century’s most influential figure in the field of public relations. The co-founder of Burson-Marsteller, the world’s largest PR and communications firm, he came to City College as part of the MCA department’s Lunch with Leaders series.
Open and happy to engage with students, the 91-year old Burson has spent over 50 years as a counselor and confidant to corporate CEOs, government leaders, and heads of public sector institutions. He practiced integrated marketing and crisis management decades before the terms were invented. Famous clientele include General Motors, AT&T, Coca-Cola, Google, Merrill Lynch—and many other large companies and larger than life people.
On a cozy set he shared with Professor Alicia Evans (shown with Burson), he talked about his career and offered advice and wisdom.
Burson emphasized the importance of networking. “The most important thing that a student can do as a student is developing a network,” said Burson. To prove that it really is about “who you know,” he explained that in company surveys, 65 percent of Burson-Marsteller employees said that they found out about job opportunities from someone who was employed, a company insider.
To become more competitive in the PR industry, Burson urged specialization. He also emphasized the importance of writing. “We are finding today, the writing level of graduates is not really good,” he explained.
A witness to the many changes in the PR industry including the evolution of digital media, Burson insisted that the internet will never replace PR. “That’s nonsense,” he said, describing, the internet as “an information-disseminating vehicle that provides a different way to get out information.”
As his talk wound down, Burson congratulated students for making the effort to do something useful in life. “If I can help inspire others to keep pulling on,” he said, “I will.”