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COM celebrates Harold Burson’s 90th

By Jin Kwon

PR Week once called Harold Burson the most influential person of the 20th century. It may have to do the same for the 21st – 10 years in, Burson is 90 years old and still going strong.

To celebrate this, COM helped Burson celebrate his 90th birthday with a symposium at the Colloquium Room of the Photonics Center on Feb. 18. The founding chairman of Burson-Marsteller – the largest public relations agency in the world – Burson has supported COM through the Harold Burson Professor and Chair in Public Relations endowment since 2003.

Rob Flaherty, the president and senior partner at Ketchum and a former member of Burson’s team, introduced the distinguished honorary alumnus. Sarah D’Souza, vice president at Edelman, and Mary-Kate Joyce, a public relations student at COM, also made remarks celebrating Burson’s unparalleled career in the industry.

Burson used his keynote speech to share hard-won insights on the nature of public relations. In the speech, Burson defined what “public relations” actually means and how it fits in with the role of corporations in society.

After the speech, Burson took questions from the crowd, during which he emphasized the importance of writing and networking skills for public relations practitioners. He candidly discussed his own past mistakes — singling out his notorious experience with the launch of New Coke — and what he learned from them.

Professor Donald K. Wright hosted the event. Otto Lerbinger, Boston University professor emeritus, and Stephen Greyser, Harvard Business School professor emeritus, also paid tribute to Burson.


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