Dirty Lying Bastards. Amazing Isn’t It That The PR Industry Has a Reputation Problem?

May 16, 2011

Well well well, what a week it’s been for the PR industry, specifically for the fine, trustworthy and let’s not forget AWARD WINNING folks at Burson-Marstellar. In case you’ve been focused on other world events I’ll give you the highlights. Facebook hired Burson to engage in an anonymous smear campaign against Google. Being what I perceive as a big, greedy agency, Burson-Marstellar said “Of course we’ll do it.” But when things went bad – Burson threw their client under the bus. What makes this story even worse, is the (alleged) senior level PR pros from Burson tried to spin their web of lies via email; idiots. Don’t they know if they are going to try to undermine one of the most powerful companies in the world you do it in a conversation, in person, on a park bench in very public place?  More on the story here http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-05-12/facebook-busted-in-clumsy-smear-attempt-on-google/#
Burson-Marstellar is skilled at this type of work, after all they’ve had practice. In 1995 they were busted doing similar work on behalf of Phillip Morris to influence anti-smoking legislation.

When I heard the news of the Agency of the Year’s stupid, unethical, rookie ploy it reminded me of another similar move by a ship of fools, Edelman Public Relations. The firm was outed when they designed a fake grass roots campaign – also known as Astroturfing – on behalf of Microsoft trying to build support for the software giant around their troubles with the United States Department of Justice. What compels agencies to act in such a manner? Oh I know, money.

For those of you just joining our little blog I should let you know I am not a fan of most PR people; most, not all. My completely unbiased view is that the team at Barokas Communications are some of the best in the business and would never engage in an Astroturfing campaign, no matter how much gold was promised at the end of the rainbow. Â I also know several smaller agencies and sole PR practitioners who would be insulted if a client requested a manufactured grass roots campaign. But bigger firms cannot resist the temptation, and the hubris at such firms enable them to engage in such behavior. So what if they get exposed – what’s the punishment? Â Nothing that a little PR can’t solve.

In my previous post I mentioned that unlike other professional service businesses, PR has escaped any true certification and enforcement. Sure there is PRSA, but that’s just the fox guarding the hen house. I strongly believe if PR professionals were held to the same standard as lawyers or doctors, where the punishment was analogous to being disbarred or losing a medical license, the shenanigans from Burson-Marstellar, Edelman, and other large agencies would be greatly reduced. PRSA has a Code of Ethics but I’m pretty sure the group will not expunge Burson from its roster for what they’ve done and I’m sure they still call Edelman a friend. Want to guess why? One clue – it’s green and white, has pictures of dead Presidents prominently displayed, and comes in several denominations.

When news surfaces like this recent case from Facebook / Burson it hurts the entire PR industry. Isn’t it ironic that our industry is built around helping companies create, shape, and improve public perception? Unless meaningful change happens in the certification and enforcement of PR professionals it will continue to be the Wild West and the palpable friction between reporter and flack will remain. Sounds like it’s time for a good old fashioned PR grassroots campaign to fix this problem!


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