Harold Burson thinks the widening wealth gap is bad for business

 

Harold Burson presents to the 20th Anniversary Reunion of the Master of Science in Comms Mgt from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.
Harold Burson presents to the 20th Anniversary Reunion of the Master of Science in Comms Mgt from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.

Harold Burson, founder of Burson-Marsteller, the world’s largest PR firm, thinks that the huge and widening gap between rich and poor bad for business. I agree.

I had a wonderful time yesterday at the #ComMgtat20 reunion of the alumni of the M.S. in Communications Management program offered by the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. This is the American sister program of the McMaster-Syracuse Master of Communications Management, of which I am director.

Harold Burson was the keynote speaker. At 93 years of age, he is still active and completely engaged. He delivered a fantastic speech, referring sometimes to his notes, but not often.

He made a made powerful and deeply insightful points during his presentation to the rapt crowd of 60 or so alumni present, but here are some key points that stuck with me:

  • The wide and growing wealth gap between the business elite and everyone else has drastically reduced trust in business and is therefore bad for business.
  • The replacement of “reasonable profit” with “maximal profit” as a core value of business mean that organizations are not investing in all of the departments they used to. Something is lost when organizations become too lean and profit-maximizing.
  • PR started to get a bad name when Richard Nixon called PR people flacks and said “we have to PR that” during the Watergate scandal.
  • The PR industry in the public interest is about “changing attitudes and behaviours .”
  • The 4 roles for ‪#‎PR‬ in business are (via a FB post from Terry Flynn):
    • sensor of social change;
    • conscience of organization;
    • communicator (inside/outside the  organization);
    • org climate monitor/ombudsperson.
  • As long as the PR industry is engaged in following trends and fashions rather than investing in the science of relationships, reputation and behaviour change, it will not be a strategic business function.

His points are well taken. We are in the business of building trust, credibility, relationships and reputation. You can’t do that when a majority of the population think that business is somehow duping them or reducing the quality of their lives so that the bottom line could be improved.

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