Yesterday, Dan Lyons of The Daily Beast confirmed that Facebook hired PR firm Burson-Marsteller to engage in a campaign to tarnish the reputation of Google by pitching journalists and bloggers with misleading information about Google’s new Social Circle platform and how it violates user privacy.
For the past few days, a mystery has been unfolding in Silicon Valley. Somebody, it seems, hired Burson-Marsteller, a top public-relations firm, to pitch anti-Google stories to newspapers, urging them to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy. Burson even offered to help an influential blogger write a Google-bashing op-ed, which it promised it could place in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, and The Huffington Post.
The plot backfired when the blogger turned down Burson’s offer and posted the emails that Burson had sent him. It got worse when USA Today broke a story accusing Burson of spreading a “whisper campaign” about Google “on behalf of an unnamed client.”
But who was the mysterious unnamed client? While fingers pointed at Apple and Microsoft, The Daily Beast discovered that it’s a company nobody suspected—Facebook.
via The Daily Beast
Of course, since this story broke both Facebook and Burson-Marsteller have released some heartfelt statements <insert sarcasm>, claiming it wasn’t their intention to smear Google, but simply highlight public information.
I know I’m not in PR, so why should I care?
I care because ethics exist in every industry to protect the true professionals, and the clients receiving services from these professionals.
Nearly every industry has a corresponding association or organization that seeks to set standards and further their industry. Examples: Social Media Club, American Bar Association, National Association of Realtors®, American Marketing Association and Public Relations Society of America.
It is actions such as the ones carried out by Burson-Marsteller employees that I’m grateful we have a strong set of guidelines to protect the real professional, and ensure the integrity of the PR industry is upheld.
As reference, the PRSA Member Statement of Professional Values, reads under ‘Disclosure of Information’
DISCLOSURE OF INFORMATION
Core Principle Open communication fosters informed decision making in a democratic society.
To build trust with the public by revealing all information needed for responsible decision making.
A member shall:
Be honest and accurate in all communications.
Act promptly to correct erroneous communications for which the member is responsible.
Investigate the truthfulness and accuracy of information released on behalf of those represented.
Reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented.
Disclose financial interest (such as stock ownership) in a client’s organization.
Avoid deceptive practices.
via Public Relations Society of America
That’s just the Disclosure of Information paragraph alone, don’t even get me started on how this manipulative strategy defies a dozen other standards established by PRSA.
For the real PR professionals out there, I strongly encourage you to speak up and out regarding this total disregard for professional ethics, as their actions harm the industry as a whole.
The Wrong Way to Avoid Negative PR
A word to the wise, don’t leave Burson-Marstellar any Facebook comments regarding this incident. Instead of taking responsibility for their actions and accepting the heat, they’re just erasing every single critical comment that is posted to their Facebook page. Miraculous! It’s all goes away when you erase it!
I took a screen shot of my post at 5:51pm CST time yesterday and within the hour, it was erased and I was banned from their Facebook page. How’s that for authentic and transparent.
Lucky for me, I’ve taken my disappointment in them to Twitter, take that!