January 13, 2014

Harold Burson's Blog

About Ed Ney (1925-2014)

Posted By Harold Burson

Ed Ney is a man for whom I had deep and genuine affection. Actually, I loved the guy.

We met in the early 70s, not long after he became Y&R’s CEO. It was at a 4 A’s annual meeting at the Greenbrier. I was flattered that he knew who I was and that he was aware of Burson-Marsteller’s rapid growth. Some months later, he invited me to join him for breakfast at the stodgy Racquet Club on Park Avenue. He outlined his idea of building an organization that offered a broad range of communications counsel and services. He was aware that Bill Marsteller and I had committed ourselves to a similar goal some twenty years earlier. He made it clear public relations belonged in his integrated “mix” and Burson-Marsteller was the firm he wanted in the Y&R family of companies.

For the remainder of the decade, Ed and I had our annual breakfast at the Racquet Club. Knowing Bill Marsteller’s decision to retire at year-end 1979, I, for numerous reasons, believed it to be in the best interests of both Marsteller Advertising and Burson-Marsteller to join forces with one of the major agencies that had sought to acquire us. My choice was Young & Rubicam (actually Ed Ney); Bill Marsteller thought we should talk also to Ogilvy (we were both agreed Y&R and Ogilvy were at the top of the heap of mega-agencies). We went with Y&R and the rest is history.* That year – 1979 – our revenues were $29 million; in 1983, the figure was $63 million, making us the largest public relations firm in the world.

I was privileged to be a member of Y&R’s seven-person Executive Committee, chaired by Ed Ney. He was a great leader. He provided strong direction and had that unique ability to make each of us feel we were part of every decision. During the decade he was my boss (he always introduced me as his partner), we never had a serious disagreement. Our commitments to our respective companies were in concert: we both continued to go to our offices after stepping down as chief executive officer.**

Ed knew everybody and everybody knew him. He is likely one of the last persons in the digital age to “engage in correspondence” – both in his own hand and dictated, transcribed and mailed in an envelope bearing a postage stamp. He acknowledged almost every letter he received and dispatched “thank you notes” for even the smallest of favors. He was a great favorite of my wife, Bette, also a writer of letters, some three or four typed pages. Until her passing in 2010, she and Ed carried on a lively correspondence, much of it reflecting Ed’s Republican point of view and Bette’s more liberal Democrat outlook.

Most of all, I respected Ed for his deeply-seated integrity. His word was his bond. He had a strong sense of right and wrong that earned him the trust of the many within his widespread orbit. His “can do” spirit was contagious. He was one of a kind, one who can never be replaced.

Harold Burson

* At the press conference announcing our merger, Phil Dougherty, the then New York Times advertising reporter, asked me about the timing of my decision. I told him I “got tired of having breakfast at the Racquet Club.”

** Also of our age group, Lester Wunderman, has continued to appear daily at his office. Ed, Lester and I established the custom of an annual lunch in our late youth (Lester and I were in our 70s), some times joined by Peter Georgescu, who succeeded Alex Kroll as CEO at Y&R.