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Harold Berson is a doyen in crisis communications, an iconic and innovative communicator and co-founder of one of the largest PR agencies in the world - "Burson-Marsteller". It expands the boundaries of public relations, marketing and advertising. For the high level of crisis communications he provides, it is joked that evil has its speed dial number.

Harold Berson's innovations in agency services are permanently established as the "new gold standard". Titled by PRWeek readers as the Most Influential Public Relations Figure in 1999, Harold Berson undoubtedly has something to convey to PR, marketing and advertising professionals, many of whose findings are still relevant and relevant to business today. .

Active and productive until the age of 98, Harold Berson shared his analyzes and reflections in the field of communications in numerous interviews, articles, author's book and even in his own blog. Let's see some of his insights:

PR - old as the world, relevant today

Harold Berson explains in an interview with Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication. "Rome's wide boulevards were not built because there were traffic jams. They were created to show the world the power and glory of Rome. We have always tried to convince each other. "


Public relations is synonymous with persuasion, and I believe that PR has been used ever since people communicated."


Modest, quiet, and kind, Mr. Burson is considered the chief architect of the modern public relations industry, which he says is a matter of both communication and behavior. "Initially, senior management told us, 'Here's the message, deliver it'" (* Footnote: "Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics"). "Then they started, 'What can we say?' "Now, in smart organizations, the question is, 'What do we do?' “

Ethics in PR

Harold Berson sees ethics and the ethical behavior of individuals and companies as a key pillar of successful communications and a sustainable society.

He shares: "I think ethical PR is a basic adherence to what you think is true in presenting your client, presenting the client in a way that shows his interest, but only as far as you can be honest in what you say. The message, the facts, the truth or the closest to it, are the essence of ethical PR. Also, be careful who you represent. ”

According to Burson, professional responsibility requires high personal ethics and conscious choice.


"I believe that no solution can be sustainable or successful in the long run if it is not in the public interest."


"As a public relations professional, I decide whether to represent a client by asking myself, 'Is what the client wants to do in the public interest?' I think this factor is very important, but sometimes underestimated. "

PR as a "dirty word"

With the development of the communication industry, the concepts in it evolve and redefine. In this regard, Berson says: "I think there is some confusion about PR - the definition of public relations is not clear enough, even for some professionals in the field. Many PR professionals equate PR with communications.


I think that communication is only half of the whole process, and the other half consists of consulting, managing strategies and patterns of behavior, decisions and only then communication.


"One of the simplest definitions of public relations is to do good and get credit for it. In the first place, good must be done. I do not think that all communications in the world can achieve any lasting result unless they are based on good behavior. Providing a satisfactory service, a satisfactory product. ”

According to his book, the very fact that it is so often called "communications" today is a sign of a loss of moral direction: "PR began to be called communications in the 1970s, after Watergate.


Nixon and his colleagues have repeatedly used the phrase PR as a solution to a problem they would not otherwise be able to solve, turning it into a dirty word.


The negative nuance that is introduced to the term PR also reflects on the self-determination of professionals in the field: "If you look at the positions of people in this role before 1974, 85% of them contain PR in themselves. Four years later, most use the word communications. But "communication" takes away from the integrity of what we do because it shows that behavior is important, only the message. "

PR as a responsibility and management function

An aspect that particularly worries Harold Berson is the increasing control of marketing functions over PR:


"Marketing plays an important role in production, research and all operations that require money, but if you give control of the PR to someone other than the CEO, you destroy the essence of what the company is."


An additional argument that businesses may have strayed from their path is that companies are moving away from their social function. In this regard, Berson said: "I do not blame corporate governance, but somewhere in the 80's there was a change in the so-called contract between business and society. Earlier, "he explains," under the social contract, corporations were committed to providing good goods and services at a good price, to ensuring stable engagement of their employees, to being responsible citizens, to supporting local hospitals, and so on. Also, provide a fair return on investment to shareholders. But since the early 1980s, the financial community has come up with the concept that shareholders should receive a maximum return on investment and that it will grow every year. With so much pressure on CEOs to cut costs, businesses are now doing activities that take away from both the product and the customer. ”


PR - lawyer and conscience of the company:

"We're lawyers," Burson told the New York Times in 1984. "We get paid to tell the client's story. We are in the business of changing and shaping attitudes and we are not successful unless we move the situation, make people do something. We are also the conscience of our client and we must do what is in the public interest. "

In another interview, Harold Berson developed the topic, "I think PR has two components - behavior and communication.


You may have the best communication in the world, but if you don't keep your promises, you'll never achieve the goals of your campaign or program. "


Expect Part Two of PR for Millions - Harold Berson's Testament, which outlines the foundations of crisis communication, PR in the digital age, and Harold Berson's influence to this day.

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