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”?


PR is so much more than getting press coverage

If you, like many people, equate public relations with getting news coverage, then you just don’t understand PR.    

True PR is about helping to create positive, mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics (internal and external). Media relations is just one of many ways of doing this. If you’re limiting your PR efforts to media relations, then you’re not getting the full benefit of PR – or your money’s worth for that matter.

Effective PR, like marketing, starts with a strategy and a plan. You’d be surprised to know there are PR “experts” out there delivering four or five bullet points of advice and calling it a PR plan. I don’t think I’ll ever forget one that I saw that was a creative brief being passed off as a PR plan.

A PR plan should include:

  • an assessment of the external environment
  • a view of the industry
  • background and history about the organization
  • analysis of the product/service/issue
  • a look at promotions, including past successes and failures, competitors’ activities, and ad/PR/marketing strategies, themes and campaigns
  • a look at market share
  • a review of the competition
  • available resources, including current attitudes and opinions that are beneficial
  • a SWOT analysis
  • a thorough breakdown of public profiles
  • specific, measurable, time-bound objectives to support the accomplishment of a goal
  • a selection of communication channels and tactics for reaching each public

The news media is just one option that’s available. It’s certainly not the only one and, depending on the plan, it may not be the best choice. Staged events, workplace communication, social media networks, tv, radio, video, billboards, blogs, landing pages, and mobile communication are some of the other many PR channels that are available.  Solely relying upon media relations, or leaning on it too heavily, probably won’t achieve the best results possible as far as desired stakeholder responses. A posting last summer on the Mopwater blog explains this well:

People so often say “get me on CNN” or “get me in the New York Times” without thinking it through…it’s like why? Why do you need to be on CNN? How does that fit into your strategy? How is that helping you meet your goal? It’s just an empty wish you think you should have because everyone says you should have it. UNLESS you think CNN is the key to showcase all the work you’ve done up to this point and you’re ready to move to the next place.

So make sure the PR advice you’re getting has examined all of the options – and don’t confuse PR as simply news coverage.

A true story about what can happen if you don’t monitor your brand

Some PR advice I give is to regularly monitor the Internet to see what’s being said about your company and key principals. Considering the speed with which information spreads online, brand reputations are built or harmed in real-time these days. So, I tell clients to set up a Google Alert and search social media networks to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s being said about them.

Fortunately, I follow my own advice. Thanks to a Google Alert I set up, I discovered someone was using my father’s name, without permission, as the name of their blog.

For many years, my dad, Gib Shanley, was the radio voice of the Cleveland Browns and a TV sportscaster. I set up a Google Alert a long time ago so that I’d get an e-mail notification whenever his name appears in online news or blogs. I was recently surprised by an alert I received about a “Gib Shanley Store” – since my father passed away in April 2008. I checked out the site and discovered it was a blog that featured reviews about Garmin watches and audio speakers, with the name “Gib Shanley Store” prominently displayed in nice big type.

After checking with family members, it became clear someone was using my dad’s name – perhaps to get high search rankings and traffic…although I can’t say for sure because whoever it was never responded to my inquiries.

I posted a comment to the blog letting the person behind it know he or she didn’t have permission to use the name and that doing so is illegal. I included this link and told them to remove the name immediately. Whoever it was (no identity was given on the blog) wisely complied, because I would have taken legal action.

Had I not been monitoring online mentions of my dad, I would have never known…and this could have been a site about something much worse than watches and speakers.

When it comes to brand reputation, what you don’t know can hurt you. Keep an eye on yours.

Kenneth Cole is latest to contract foot-in-mouth disease

Seriously, what was Kenneth Cole thinking when he posted a tweet using the current situation in Egypt as a springboard for promoting his spring collection?

There’s no excuse for this PR disaster when so much information about the do’s and don’ts of Twitter is literally at Cole’s fingertips. All it takes is a few minutes of Internet research. If you’re going to participate in social media, then the least you should do is do a little online investigating to get the lay of the land first. Before you insert shoe in mouth.

Contrary to what some people say about there being no such thing as bad PR (and they might want to give some serious thought to Enron, Toyota and BP), it can never be good when you or your company name is viewed negatively. Gini Dietrich summed it up nicely with this analysis:

Anytime you have to issue an apology and interrupt your work growing your business, that is bad PR. No matter how many people are talking about you.

Who knows whether Cole did this on purpose as a PR stunt. It really doesn’t matter. No matter what the long-term impact turns out to be, this was insensitive and showed poor judgment.