Burson hailed as PR's No. 1 influential figure

PR, like any industry, is rife with experts throwing around definitions and best practices about how to do it, when to do it, and what success looks like.

It’s easy to get caught up in the complexities; killing ourselves as we attempt to jump on the next bandwagon as the pundit of the day makes proclamations like:

Value of PR: Print is Dead“Traditional media is dying.”

“News doesn’t matter only opinions matter.”

“Social media is the most important component of PR.”

And my personal favorite: “The press release is dead.”

Well, no, you idiot, it’s not dead. It’s just taken on a different form, and will continue to evolve.

PR today is not like the PR of yesteryear. But at the same time…it is. While the modes and distribution methods have certainly changed, how we should think about PR – meaning, the ultimate goals – have not changed.

In 1985, Steve Jobs famously said:

“Good PR educates people; that’s all it is. You can’t con people in this business. The products speak for themselves.”

This still holds true today, and is even more important as a barrage of startups attempt to push crappy, boring, untested products into the marketplace. It’s a simple statement, one often forgotten as we get caught up in the whiplash of a rapidly changing media landscape.

Well, as I’m sure Dave McClure would say: “Calm the fuck down already.”

What I know he would say about PR (because I asked him last week) is this: “PR is about telling good stories, differentiated stories.”  

Dave McClure is a PR machineMcClure is like a walking PR machine, a renegade of sorts who says really disruptive things and always has some sort of quirky spin to whatever he’s putting out there. This makes him altogether likable and controversial at the same time. He just doesn’t give a shit. PR people have a lot to learn from him. Brands have even more to learn from him. Imagine if every brand had a walking, disruptive, intelligent, storyteller among their ranks. Hmmm?

Harold Burson, who is perhaps the oldest functioning human being I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, has been in the PR industry for practically 335 dog years. He’s seen it all. Heck, for all intents and purposes, he started it all.

When Sharam and I visited his office in New York a couple weeks ago, I prompted him about his “PR thoughts.” I was originally thinking: “He’s going to have the holy grail answer in less than 140 characters.”

Harold Burson: PR is about problem solvingThen this happened…

We listened to him recount a story about a manufacturing client from Ohio. The year was likely 1987ish.

“The main guy called me up one day and said: ‘Harold we have a problem. Morale is really down and we don’t know what’s going on. We want you and your team to come out here and help us organize an employee event. We’ll invite all the families, have hot dogs and all sorts of fun things for the kids.’”

But Harold was smarter than that.

He went in and started talking to the employees, trying to gain an “inside” understanding as to what was going on. Within a few short days he had the answer to the morale problem that one million hot dogs couldn’t fix: it was a freezing cold, blistering winter and many employees were parked nearly a mile away. By the time they got to work they were chilled to the bone, many of them sick.

They wanted closer parking.

“PR is about problem solving,” he quipped in his endearing, somewhat shaky voice. “The client has a problem, it’s our job to solve it. Maybe the problem is that no one knows about the product. Maybe the problem is that the general public doesn’t like them. But at the end of the day, we are problem solvers, just like them…but we are on a different side of the equation.”

Education, storytelling, problem solving. In no particular order…this is how smart people think about PR. And sometimes, the value of PR is just about closer parking.

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