Harold Burson’s 2004 memoir E Pluribus Unum – The Making of Burson Marsteller was my second book of 2011 and to be honest I was looking forward to starting it. 

Mr. Burson is one of the few giants of the Public Relations business.  In 1953 with Bill Marsteller he started Burson-Marsteller and drove its growth and expansion to eventually become the biggest PR firm in the world. He continues to go into the office today in his 80s and he has his own site and blog.

I had high expectations for the book, I was looking forward to insights into the PR business from the 1950s to today, but to be honest, I was disappointed.

The book opens brightly with an account of how he found himself in a career in Public Relations, but it soon descends into a potted company backgrounder on B-M’s growth around the world.  There’s little narrative or insights into the business but instead it becomes a collection of cities, people, dates and office openings.

I really struggled with it and I actually considered not finishing the book, but I was glad I did.  The last third of the book provides a little more insight into Mr. Burson’s working life such as his work with Coca-Cola and some of the high profile issues he managed.

But overall I’d have to say that this was, sadly, a missed opportunity to get a better insight into the career of one of the most successful Public Relations executives who worked with many of the best known organizations in the world over five decades.

The lack of a compelling narrative and limited insights into the practice or business of Public Relations mean I couldn’t recommend it.

A pity.

Posted by Tom Murphy – @tpemurphy

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