Harold Burson

Harold Burson (Hon ’88), a co-founder of Burson-Marsteller who transformed the public relations industry and a generous supporter of Boston University College of Communication, died today at the age of 98.

A survey by PR Week once named Burson as “the century’s most influential PR figure,” and both the Public Relations Society of America and the Arthur W. Page Society named him to their respective halls of fame.

Working for American Forces Network at the end of World War II, Burson covered the Nuremberg Trial, and was the only reporter to obtain an interview during the trial with Associate Justice Robert H. Jackson, the chief American prosecutor.

After his Army discharge, he founded a small agency in New York, leading him to partner with William Marsteller as collaborators on shared projects. Shortly, they joined together to build a new company bearing their names that — after a bold move into the European market and later serving as the sole public relations counsel for General Motors — grew to become the world’s largest public relations company.

His relationship with Boston University grew out of an invitation to speak to a class of PR students at the start of his career. “I found myself learning as much from them as they learned from me,” he recalled in a recent interview.

Throughout his career, Burson supported public relations research and education, developing training programs and mentoring young professionals. His company built a long history of collaboration with Boston University and hired many COM graduates.

In 1988, Burson was awarded an honorary degree by Boston University, and in 1995 a chair in public relations was established, held today by Donald K. Wright.

Watch interview from Boston University:

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  1. Harold Burson

    Of the all the stories that I recall about my father, none reveal the character of the man better than this story. My father was addressing a group of Harvard Business School students back in the early 90s. A young man rose and asked the following question: “Mr. Burson, looking back on your life, what were the keys to your success?”

    “That’s easy, my father replied. “Absent the generosity of Ole Miss and the opportunity they gave me to receive an education, I become a footnote to history. There never is a Burson-Marsteller.”

    For those interested in contributing to the Harold Burson Legacy Scholarship Fund at the School of Journalism at Ole Miss, here is a direct link that will facilitate your gift. This scholarship will insure the lessons of Harold Burson live on for generations to come. It will fund the education of merit-based candidates seeking careers in communications.

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