Harold Burson of Burson-Marsteller wrote a nice post on the recent May college graduates, including the increase in new entrants to the communications field. He offered some great advice, and also mentioned his excellent and highly competitive Harold Burson Summer Internship program, for which I am an alum. That program turned into my first full-time job after graduating from Syracuse University. I tried leaving a comment on his blog, but it wouldn’t let me. So, I’ll leave it here:
First, I’m one of your biggest fans. I was a 1996 Harold Burson Summer Intern, and it was one of the best professional and educational experiences I’ve ever had. In fact, I will go so far as to suggest the Internship experience at Burson-Marsteller is more valuable than an entry-level job there. For a very young professional, the HBSI was a nurturing, confidence-building experience that helped shape opportunistic business leaders, well beyond the communications field. My entry-level experience at Burson-Marsteller was great as well, but it was characterized more by a condition of sink or swim (which I admit made me stronger).
But after being promoted from intern, three levels up to senior associate, and having had a lot of fun along the way, I realized there was something terribly wrong with the communications agency industry, and this condition was in full effect at Burson-Marsteller. Most of my promotions were prompted as a way to retain me when outside forces presented new and better opportunities, including more favorable compensation for material contributions, a real equity stake in the success of the firm and clear growth opportunities outside the strict box of traditional public relations.
I saw Burson-Marsteller develop some amazing talent, only to lose it because of these very factors. Consequently, I believe your firm lost larger enterprise opportunities by not letting that eager talent grow the scope of its core and emerging business disciplines. Perhaps there was good reason for the way things were done, but today I’m still not privy. Perhaps someone could explain why the larger communications agency business still acts like this today.
But in the end, I’m grateful for my experience at Burson-Marsteller, my first and only pure “public relations” job. I consider my post-Journalism school years at Burson-Marsteller to be my working MBA. In fact, “Dr. Len Ellis,” a managing director there at the time, was (and still is) one of my most important mentors, professors and business partners. My experience with him, fellow colleagues and clients taught me how to think deep and fast, how to connect the dots, articulate meaning, identify a story, and serve as trusted adviser on it all.
And for the record, my Burson-Marsteller experience also includes stints as a client, a partner in multiple contexts, a thought-leader guest and lots of interactions with current employees and alumni. And for any of my criticism, your firm is something to be proud of. The institution has achieved great things and influenced the development of some impressive people in business and media. I hold the brand in high esteem.
Harold, you’ve contributed meaning to my career, and I’m proud to make you part of my graduation story.