PR legend Harold Burson, who passed January 10 at the age of 98, disproved the notion that “nice guys finish last.”

Harold BursonHarold Burson

Along with marketing communications wizard Dan Edelman, Harold set the foundation for what evolved into today’s PR business.

He forged the first global PR firm and “professionalized” the business by offering counsel to CEOs at blue-chip companies, such as Johnson & Johnson (Tylenol) and Union Carbide (Bhopal toxic gas explosion), during their time of crisis.

DuPont CEO Edgar Woolard memorialized Burson as “the man to call when major problems appeared” because “he always cooled the issues.”

More important, Harold was basically a nice guy who was always generous with his time and counsel. The pride of Memphis was a southern gentleman.

Jack O’Dwyer viewed Burson as PR’s gold standard, a reliable sounding board for potential story ideas.

Earlier during my career at O’Dwyer’s, Jack frequently told me to bounce something off Harold. If it received his imprimatur, I was on the right track.

Harold left some pretty big shoes to fill. It’s up to the PR business to live up to his high standards and commitment to ethics.