By Jon M. Walton
Taking his father’s advice many years ago helped adjunct integrated marking communications professor Mark Burson find a career path he not only excelled in but now passes on to his students at the University of Mississippi.
Born in Bronxville, New York, Burson attended the University of Southern California in 1973, double majoring in art history and business finance. As he was getting ready to graduate, he wanted to pursue a master’s degree in art history. Mark’s father, Harold Burson, otherwise known as the ‘Father of Public Relations,’ suggested an alternative.
“I wanted to continue my college education, and he suggested I talk to the folks over at the school of journalism, so I did,” Burson said. “I received a teaching assistant job in the school and got a master’s in public relations, which launched my career in the business.”
Burson went on to work for two Fortune 500 companies in the following years after graduation. After finishing his position in the semiconductor manufacturing facility at Rockwell International, Burson began working for Burson-Marsteller public relations company, where his father had just stepped down from the CEO position.
“My father had a zero-nepotism policy, which meant no family members in the business,” Burson said. “When he stepped down as CEO, the new CEO called me and asked if I would like to work at the company, and I spent 32 years on-and-off there.”
Burson also had the professional opportunity to run the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
“I learned that being CEO of an organization required, from my perspective, the ability to tell a story,” he said. “Having come out of the PR business, even though I had never been a CEO, I knew exactly what I needed to do on day one at the library.”
Burson’s familiarity with the South started with his father being an Ole Miss graduate, as well as a Memphis native. He spent summers as a little boy in Memphis and had always heard stories about Oxford, Mississippi.
“I had been to Oxford as a little boy, but I knew nothing of it. I fell in love with the place,” he said.
Since then, Burson has lived in Oxford for a few years and invested himself in the community. He said that Mississippi is the embodiment of which he calls the three F’s: faith, family and friends and how those groups align with his core values.
“It’s Mississippi’s deep appreciation of what faith and family mean that make it so special,” he said. “It was such an epiphany to be able to be in a place that embraced the very same core values I was trying to inject into my own family, in a way to keep the family together.”
Most compare living in California to living in a “Heaven on Earth” situation, but Burson said he will never be lured away from Mississippi. He had not realized his worldview and belief systems were heavily rooted in conservative thinking.
“The great thing about being in Mississippi today is that I see potential in the state. We have to solve some vexing issues that continue to hang around,” he said. “I think the biggest problem in Mississippi today is that we have suffered from a lack of enlightened leadership … I want to be a part of the solution.”
Burson said that being a positive force for students and residents and giving them a pathway where they didn’t think one existed far outweighs any accomplishment in his 45-year (and counting) professional career.
“The key to living a successful life is to find true meaning in your life. It wasn’t until I took this job at Ole Miss three years ago that I really found true meaning,” Burson said.
Chauncey Mullins, Mr. Ole Miss 2018, commented on Burson’s leadership and vision and that he believed Burson to be one of the best professors at Ole Miss.
“He does more than teach; he inspires us to think differently, and he pushes his students to be better,” Mullins said of Burson. “He has years of experience working for some of the best businesses, so you are getting more than what a book could ever give. His class was the highlight to my day, even at 8 a.m. I truly am going to miss his energy in the classroom.”