Why Burson-Marsteller deserves to be shunned by the entire PR profession

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”?

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