Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Man, The Myth, The Legend

To do a Public Relations take on the "Intel: Sponsors of Tomorrow" ad campaign: A small, yoda-like man walks onto the stage podium and smiles at the crowd of students that have gathered. His hair is combed back and the reflection from the over-head lights beams off his glasses. But despite this non-assuming man's appearance, his presence is Olympian as the students applaud his entrance.

Harold Burson; Co-founder of Burson-Marsteller, one of the world's largest public relations agencies and PRWeek's most influential public relations person of the 20th century. Public Relations: Our rock stars aren't like your rock stars!

That was what went through my head when Harold Burson spoke yesterday as he addressed students in the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics main auditorium at the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

One thing is for certain, I can only hope to be half the public relations specialist that Burson is and he truly is the real "Mr. Public Relations."

During the hour he spent with students yesterday, Burson reminisced about the early part of his career, the creation of Burson-Marsteller, and the agency's defining moments; including its work in cleaning up Exxon's image after the Valdez oil spill incident in 1989 and Johnson & Johnson's confrontation with a second outbreak of cyanide-laced Tylenol in 1986.

One of the main points in his presentation was what you know. Burson emphasized the importance of specializing in something but also knowing something about everything. His big tip was for students serious in working in corporate PR to have a business background. In today's market, those with business minors and (even better) an MBA have the upper edge over those with English and history minors. It was a cold, hard fact that made me sigh in relief that despite the grievance it has been, I've been minoring in business.

Additionally, I felt a personal connection to Burson's life story when he told us about his graduating from the University of Mississippi (the same university I now attend) and his dreams of being whisked away to the life of New York City. Given the opportunity to hear him speak ensured me that with hard work, determination and a strengthened belief in the need for effective public relations, maybe someday, I too could be the professional he is.

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