In 1983, I was an account supervisor in Burson-Marsteller’s Los Angeles office, having transferred there from New York a year earlier. One afternoon, I learned Harold Burson would be visiting the next day.
We had a particularly difficult client we were working with at the time, one with a tough story to tell. I was asked to set up a meeting so Harold could discuss the issues we’d encountered. I was thrilled.
I’d met Harold in New York and spoken to him there on several occasions, but this was entirely new, so I called the client and asked if I could bring him over the next day. As you might imagine, the client was surprised and pleased that a legend in the PR industry would take time out of his busy schedule to discuss the account.
I was at the office bright and early the next morning and it was a good thing, too, because that’s when Harold showed up. The general manager took him around the office to meet our PR team and our counterparts on the advertising side. Then it was off to meet the client.
As we drove to Burbank, Harold was full of questions about my time in Los Angeles, how my accounts were faring, and what was up with the client we were meeting. I explained it was a group of PR executives representing various television studios engaged in a financial tussle with the networks. Hearing Harold would be there, the group enthusiastically greeted him when we arrived and we discussed the communications challenges we’d encountered representing the studios.
I learned that day Harold was a great listener. Rather than think of responses to what he was hearing, Harold absorbed what the clients had to say, nodded and listened some more. Toward the end of the meeting he made several cogent suggestions, told the clients he would huddle with our team back at the office and I would come back with new recommendations.
We stopped for lunch on the way back to the office and Harold offered insights that had never occurred to me about the clients and their pain points. I took notes as we ate and thanked him for his thoughts and ideas.
That was Harold Burson. He had time for somebody like me, a lowly account supervisor stationed in one of the firm’s outposts. I know many of my B-M colleagues had similar experiences with Harold.
I left the agency a year later to join Ketchum in Chicago, but never forgot this kind man of good humor, integrity and wisdom who meant so much to so many of us as a mentor and friend.
Harold will be missed.
Kevin Foley owns KEF Media in Atlanta.