PR Industry Giant Harold Burson, Founder of Burson-Marsteller, Dies at 98

by | Jan 10, 2020

Harold Burson, Founder of Burson-MarstellerThe PR industry has lost a titan.Harold Burson, founder of Burson-Marsteller and the man voted the most influential PR person of the 20th century, died on Friday. He was 98.

“Harold Burson was a pioneer of the public relations industry whose legacy will continue to influence the communications profession long into the future,” PRSA said in a statement. “He was a man of tremendous ambition and achieved unprecedented success throughout his celebrated career. As a longtime member of PRSA and a member of the College of Fellows 1989 inaugural class, Harold was a treasured, generous role model and mentor who helped shape countless generations of students and communications practitioners. His passing is a tremendous loss and our heart goes out to his family and to the many people whose lives he touched. He will be missed very much.”

“Our family is saddened by the loss of our beloved father. We grieve and mourn his passing. And yet our spirits are lifted by the belief that he is now ‘gathered’ with his loving wife and faithful companion of 63 years, Bette Ann. We pray they will now rest together for all of eternity,” Burson’s family said in a statement.

“He was the wisest person I knew, with the highest level of integrity, humility and kindness,” BCW CEO Donna Imperato told O’Dwyer’s. “Harold inspired tens of thousands of public relations and communications professionals around the world. His values and affinity for life will always be the core DNA of Burson Cohn & Wolfe. It has been my extraordinary privilege to have known Harold Burson as a colleague, a mentor and a friend. We will miss him.”

Burson and partner Bill Marsteller founded Burson-Marsteller in 1953, and the agency became one of the largest public relations companies in the world. In 1979 it became a subsidiary of Young & Rubicam, which in turn was later acquired by WPP. In 2018, it merged with Cohn & Wolfe and renamed Burson Cohn & Wolfe.

Memorial services for Burson will be held in New York City and at the University of Mississippi. The family asks those wanting to celebrate Burson’s life to make a donation to the Harold Burson Legacy Scholarship Fund at the School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi.

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