LEARNING FROM A PR TITAN
27th February, 2014
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A couple of months ago one of my colleagues attended a seminar where the keynote speaker was 93 year old Harold Burson of Burson-Marsteller fame. She was in awe of this gentle faced old man and I couldn’t quite understand why. After all, if you want advice about PR, marketing and communications in this day and age you would expect a forty year old global director of digital comms to enlighten you. But after reading an interview with him in PR week, I changed my opinion.
Burson has been around for a very long time and some say he’s been alive for almost as long as the PR trade itself. Age gives you a historical advantage, but when it comes to a young and dynamic sector like ours, surely vivacity and freshness are key?
The way he put it, however, PR is not a new thing; it’s been applied since people started communicating and trying to persuade each other.
But perhaps what struck me as modern, sound and applicable to our times, as well as technology PR, was the common sense he seems to apply to everything in his business. And common sense, decency and decorum are things that no high flying marcomms director will chose to speak about at a trade event. Because these values are not glamorous or exciting or at the peak of digital technologies.
Burson’s belief is that in order to best service a client you first have to share their values and make them see the PR agency as an extension of their own company. This really struck a chord with me.
I am of the opinion that you can’t really sell products or services you don’t believe in. Equally, when you’re selling in a story over the telephone to say, an automation journalist, if you don’t believe in the client’s case, chances are the journalist won’t believe in it either. It’s as simple as that.
The take home for any companies out there in search of a PR agency is to look out for technical understanding and passion for storytelling. If the team in front of you believes in your company and your products then they won’t have any trouble turning others into believers as well.
The common sense approach that Burson speaks about may seem simplistic and somewhat oldie–worldly. He was after all, the one to say in the late ‘80s that there’s not much to this digital craze and his agency has better things to do then start including digital into clients’ campaigns.
Yet the fact remains that in his century long life Burston has distilled the learnings of the PR sector into a simple and clear maxim. It could go something like this, “Apply common sense when you don’t know what to do. Show passion and dedication and you’ll be on the right track.”
Image courtesy of Michael Elliott on freedigitalphotos.net