The Communicator’s Roundtable Featuring Harold Burson

21 Jul The Communicator’s Roundtable Featuring Harold Burson

Ken Wincko, SVP Marketing at PR Newswire and Harold Burson, co-founder of Burson-Marstellar.

“Public relations is synonymous with persuasion and my belief is that PR was applied as soon as people communicated.”- Harold Burson

Harold Burson is the godfather of PR. He co-founded Burson-Marstellar in 1953, now one of the largest public relations agencies in the world that employs over 2,000 people internationally. He has seen decades come and go in the industry and worked with household names such as Coca-Cola and Merill Lynch. Recently, he took part in a roundtable discussion, led by Ken Wincko, SVP Marketing at PR Newswire, to speak about the past, present, and developing role of public relations.

Burson started off the discussion by referencing Crystalising Public Opinion by public relations pioneer, Edward L. Bernays. He mentions that Bernays believes public relations to be comprised of two principle components: behavior and communications. With this view in mind, he proffered that today he sees far too much emphasis being given to communication while behavior has blended to the background.

Burson cautions that, as businesses are pressured to deliver maximum returns to shareholders year after year, public confidence in business weakens as organizational focus shifts from products and goodwill to the bottom line. Market goals are now, understandably, the linchpin of business, but it has come at the price of distrust among the public. Organizations must now also keep in mind the behavioral aspect of public relations, such as focusing on guaranteeing quality and corporate amity. This, Burson asserts, is the only way companies will see continuous, meaningful growth.

On storytelling in PR, Burson believes the caliber of content is still just as good as it was decades ago, but he does concede that individual storytelling has moved into the next stage of the continuum that began with word of mouth. However, now instead of talking to 10-12 people, we speak to hundreds of thousands at once. Digital platforms have multiplied our ability to reach audiences and with the proliferation of analytics information, we can now pinpoint our audience and fine-tune the people we reach and when we reach them.

Although independent mediums continue to change as credible thought leaders and news sources promulgate content through blogging, twitter and other platforms, it is up to the PR professional to foster relationships, continue to build transparent relationships, and utilize these new channels to create powerful messaging in a ever-changing media landscape. Burson notes that the power of word of mouth is still just as potent as it has always been and should not be overlooked.
There was one thing throughout the discussion the table remained unanimous on: PR professionals must, now and in the future, remain diligent in practicing with transparency and integrity. It is with these ethics in mind that Burson believes PR is at its best.

In just shy of an hour, Harold Burson illustrated the importance public relations not losing sight of its past moving into the future. As PR people, we must adapt to new platforms and trends to meet our audiences while holding steadfast to our values, making sure ‘behavior’ weighs the same as ‘communication’ to our clients. New technology platforms allow us to meet our audience with unprecedented speed, accuracy and scale. It is our responsibility to be mindful and learned of these tools to build relationships that instill confidence and promote truth and transparency.

photo credit via PR Newswire

Michael Peterson
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