Harold Burson and Bill Marsteller established Burson-Marsteller on March 1, 1953. Harold Burson had worked in the world of public relations for nearly a decade, while Bill Marsteller had successfully run the Marsteller agency since 1950.
Burson-Marsteller started out as a business-to-business communications specialist, and continued on that route for about 15 years. By the end of the 1950's, however, B-M recognized the need to expand. Burson-Marsteller knew that the future lay in a global style of doing business, and the company began to seek out new clients accordingly. From this point forward, B-M pursued clients that were large, multinational corporations with public relations and public affairs needs all over the globe. Moreover, Burson-Marsteller began to branch out from its initial focus on business-to-business communications. The company identified consumer, public affairs and marketing communications as new areas to target. By 1959, B-M had established a new course of business and began to implement its objectives at a swift, determined pace. To Top
By the time the 1950's had ended, Burson-Marsteller had established a solid name for itself throughout the United States. It was not yet ranked among the top 25 U.S. public relations firms, however. Thus, when the company decided to expand into Europe, it was making an incredibly risky move. While Carl Byoir & Associates had a small office representing American clients in Europe, Hill & Knowlton was the only firm that approached Europe as a marketplace. But the risk paid off. Making the move into Europe differentiated Burson-Marsteller and catapulted it into the highest echelon of public relations firms.
In acquiring Theodore R. Sills, Inc., in April of 1970, B-M entered the world of consumer public affairs. The defining event of the 1970's, however, was winning General Motors as a client. With GM on its client roster, Burson-Marsteller had effectively been awarded an industry "good housekeeping seal of approval." This was the company's most important and prestigious client to date. In 1979, Young & Rubicam Brands acquired Burson-Marsteller and Marsteller Advertising, a step that greatly increased B-M's ability to expand and continue to provide the highest quality of service to clients. B-M established the Public Affairs Practice in 1974 and in 1979 a Healthcare specialty, the first PR firm to do so.
During the 1980's, Burson-Marsteller became the first name in crisis management. The Tylenol crisis of 1982, when seven people in Illinois died from consuming poisoned doses of the product, had a tremendous impact on the company. B-M worked closely with Johnson & Johnson to control the ill effects of the crisis and ensure continuing confidence in the brand. The Tylenol crisis became the standard against which all other crises were measured for years to come. In addition to Tylenol, the company worked on a number of other key crises during the 1980s - Union Carbide and New Coke vs. Old Coke.
Crisis management was not the only defining achievement of the1980's. In terms of scale and complexity, no project in Burson-Marsteller's history approaches the 1984 Olympic Torch Relay. This was B-M's largest single undertaking. At one point, 150 people concentrated their full-time efforts on this project alone. The relay covered 8,000 miles and passed through 30 states.
About a year before the Olympic Torch Relay, Burson-Marsteller became the world's largest public relations agency, and was the first to hit $100 million in revenues in 1985. Burson-Marsteller also spent much of the 1980's cultivating a client base in the healthcare industry. In the late '80s and early '90s, about 20% of the company's client work was related to healthcare. In 1984, the company acquired Cohn and Wolfe, as well as Rogers Merchandising.
The 1990's continued the chain of successful decades for Burson-Marsteller. The company emerged as a major presence in Washington D.C., growing and expanding its public affairs capabilities with the 1990 acquisition of lobbying firm Gold and Liebengood and the 1991 acquisition of Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly. In addition, B-MU, Burson-Marsteller's internal training and orientation program, was formalized and expanded. The company's 1999 acquisition of Hart Coopers Partners, a San Francisco-based firm focused on emerging high-technology companies, added significantly to Burson-Marsteller's existing technology expertise.
On October 4, 2000, the merger between WPP Group plc and Young & Rubicam Brands was completed. In May 2001, Burson-Marsteller announced the acquisition of Communique PR, the highly respected independent public relations consultancy in Manchester, England, who specializes in the areas of guerilla and experimental marketing.
Along with outstanding client work, Burson-Marsteller had another reason to celebrate in 2001, Harold Burson's 80th birthday. More than 500 friends and admirers of Harold Burson came together in New York City to celebrate this landmark occasion. At the start of 2001, Burson-Marsteller colleagues were busy working across the globe to successfully launch Accenture, Andersen Consulting's new identity. This was believed to be the largest business-to-business corporate rebranding campaign ever. Another major client effort was the World War II memorial campaign. Burson-Marsteller was ranked the number one agency in Asia Pacific, according to the 2001 Asia Agency rankings in PR Week. In March 2003, Burson-Marsteller was recognized by PRWeek as the "Large PR Agency of the Year 2003." In May 2004, the firm ranked number one in Client Satisfaction according to a survey undertaken by PRWeek in May 2004. In 2004, Burson-Marsteller won four PRSA Silver Anvils awards for work produced during its 50th Anniversary year, a company record!
In December of 2005 Burson-Marsteller acquired Genesis Public Relations, India's leading public relations company. Also in that month, Mark Penn was appointed as the new Worldwide Chief Executive Officer, succeeding Tom Nides. In May 2007, Burson-Marsteller won "International Agency of the Year" from The Holmes Report.