Book review – The Business of Persuasion by Harold Burson

Harold Burson certainly believes in ‘Better Late Than Never’. If my memory serves me right he probably is the first Founder of a Top 10 Public Relations firm to have penned an autobiography. And I’m so glad he did.

Not sure if Lord Chadlington or Larry Weber or for that matter Oscar Zhao or lower down the ladder Kathy Bloomgarden or Melissa Wagner will write a memoir. I hope that Margery Kraus and Jim Weiss do. Well, if you are not familiar with these names look them up online.

Coming to the book I read over seven hours in two sittings, I would rate it 7 / 10 and highly recommend it to anyone in business, politics and certainly to everyone in Public Relations. The book in its entirety with 18 chapters can be a three-credit course by itself at a post-graduate programme. There is plenty to learn and know from the remarkable life and times of the iconic Harold.

Well, there are four things that I felt could have been done better –

  1. The structure of the book – At times it seems to be all over the place but then at the end of the chapter you realise why it is all put out that way because the man has a method to the madness.
  2. I was looking forward to seeing Prema Sagar getting additional pride of place, especially in the pictures section. And her non-profit is referred to as an Institute instead of a Foundation which I think was in the absence of a fact checker.
  3. All case studies should have had a serial number purely for referencing and it would help various academic pursuits.
  4. Lastly, there is no mention of Dan Edelman, whose firm displaced BM from pole position, founded by Burson’s contemporary and fellow Jewish entrepreneur who came from humble origins.

But the six things that simply stand out are –

  1. The elephant’s memory or the ability write a dairy for over 80 years because the dates mentioned throughout add a greater amount of authenticity right from the 1920s and 1930s until recent years.
  2. Every detail of Harold’s professional life is brought alive through an interesting narrative of the highs and lows.
  3. There is loads of inspiration hidden in every page for everyone. Be it a reader with no interest in Public Relations or a veteran who wants to understand more about the profession.
  4. The Takeaways section at the end of each chapter is a ready reckoner of things one can learn after reading through the numerous stories in the preceding chapter.
  5. The eye for detail, passion for writing, love for reading, appetite for research and thirst to know more through nine decades come across on every page of the book – and these are exactly the qualities one needs to have to be successful in most service businesses.
  6. Lastly, I’m so glad that Harold hits the nail on the head on Page 208 by saying that Communication is only one function of the Public Relation professional.

I won’t give out more. I would urge every PR professional to go and buy their own copy of the book (rather than borrow from me). I feel proud to have been a Burson Person.

Here is an offer you must not refuse. Go online, buy your copy, send me the receipt and tweet a picture of you with a copy of the book before December 31st and receive a voucher equal to the value (approx. Rs 2000) of the book that you can use to register for any Reputation Today event in 2018.

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Amith Prabhu
Amith Prabhu is the Founder of the PRomise Foundation which organises PRAXIS, India’s annual summit of reputation management professionals.

He is also the Founding Dean of the School of Communications & Reputation (SCoRe).

He can be reached at @amithpr on twitter.

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