Gee, thanks Burson-Marsteller for giving the entire PR industry a black eye with your sleazy work for Facebook.
In case you haven’t heard, Facebook has admitted it asked Burson-Marsteller to plant negative news stories about Google. The smear campaign was designed to attack Social Circle – Google’s most direct challenge yet to Facebook – by claiming the service will collect and release data without user authorization. Burson-Marsteller’s claims on behalf of its secret client Facebook that Social Circle violates people’s privacy was determined to be “exaggerated” and “largely untrue.” (See The Daily Beast’s account) The whole thing backfired when it was exposed earlier this week.
Trying to do damage control, Burson-Marsteller quickly apologized and admitted it should have never accepted the job to begin with. While this might help the PR firm to hang on to its other clients, it is not going to turn around the negative perceptions now being attached to the entire PR profession.
Public relations is rooted in building long-term partnerships based on mutual trust. This means that delivering on promises, doing what you say you will do, aligning actions with words, saying what you mean and meaning what you say are vitally important behaviors. In my opinion, once you lose trust, you also lose the ability to communicate and lead among a public that’s increasingly intolerant of unethical public relations. Therefore, “walking the talk” is paramount for PR practitioners in terms of public trust.
Burson-Marsteller knows this. Which is why the agency’s actions are infuriating and inexcusable. Those of us in PR who conduct ourselves ethically and professionally are now left to clean up the bad taste Burson-Marsteller has left behind.
Explain and apologize all you want, Burson-Marsteller. Good luck in getting anyone to believe you.
What do you think? Will it be business as usual for Burson-Marsteller once this “blows over”?
Actor Charlie Sheen public escapades makes this a good time to talk about the use of celebrities in advertising. Sheen was featured in Hanes commercials, which were dropped when negativity about him intensified. He follows a list of celebrity endorsers – Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, Kate Moss, Michael Phelps, Chris Brown, Brett Favre – who ended up being brand liabilities instead of champions. Don’t expect this to deter advertisers from using celebrities, though. Why? Because they draw attention to and help shape perceptions of the brand.
One local example is Reliant Energy’s use of NFL Hall of Famer Troy Aikman in TV spots. Aikman’s agent tries to rope him into endorsing a dental gun, while Aikman practically begs for a shot at representing Reliant Energy. See for yourself:
For the Reliant Energy brand to be tied to an athlete like Aikman, whose performance as quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys was nothing short of electric at times, is an excellent fit. Consumers likely will infer that Reliant, like Aikman, is competitive, reliable, credible…and delivers even under pressure.
Linking a celebrity endorser to a brand is not without risk, however. Besides undesirable behavior and/or sudden loss of popularity that can diminish the celebrity’s marketing value to the brand, there are any number of potential problems:
- Celebrity endorsers can be overused by pitching so many products that there ends up being no specific product meaning, or consumers believe that celebrities only do it for the money and don’t believe in or even use the product.
- The celebrity’s star power can overshadow the brand to the point where consumers can’t recall the advertised brand.
- A mismatch of celebrity and brand is unbelievable or illogical to consumers.
- Some consumers can feel that celebrities’ salaries to appear in advertisements add a significant and unnecessary cost to the brand.
What this all means is care must be taken by brands so that celebrity endorsers are evaluated, selected and used strategically, as well as closely monitored.
A recent survey by Starch Advertising Research indicates we can expect to continue to see celebrities featured in print ads because doing so produces a 9.4 percent lift in readership than ads without a celebrity endorser.
Do you think celebrity endorsements are worth the risk?