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.
Starting out as a business-to-business communications specialist, B-M soon branched out into identified consumer, public affairs and marketing communications. It also pursued clients that were large, multinational corporations with public relations and public affairs needs all over the globe.
By the time the 1950s had ended, Burson-Marsteller had established a solid name for itself throughout the United States. It then made the move into Europe, which 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 1970s, however, was winning General Motors as a client. This was the company’s most important and prestigious client to date. B-M established the Public Affairs Practice in 1974 and in 1979 a healthcare specialty, the first PR firm to do so.
During the 1980s, Burson-Marsteller became the first name in crisis management. Besides that, Burson-Marsteller handled the biggest project in its history in terms of scale and complexity—1984 Olympic Torch Relay. This was B-M’s largest single undertaking.
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.
In 1984, the company acquired Cohn and Wolfe, as well as Rogers Merchandising.
In the 1990s, the company expanded its public affairs capabilities with the 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 formalised and expanded. The company’s 1999 acquisition of Hart Coopers Partners also 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.
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 recognised 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. And in 2008, The Holmes Report named Genesis Burson-Marsteller the ‘India Consultancy of the Year’ as a part of its first ever Asia-Pacific consultancies report card.