Join 3,513 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Egg on their Facebooks
May 12, 2011 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Last Friday, USA Today reported that two people from PR firm Burson-Marsteller had been contacting various news outlets and bloggers, pushing a story about how Google's "Social Circle" gmail feature violates users' privacy. The pitch was made on behalf of an unnamed client that The Daily Beast now confirms was Facebook.

Blogger Chris Soghoian (who was arrested back in 2006 for creating a website that generated fake Northwest Airlines boarding passes, then hired by the FTC for a little while,) was approached by former National Journal Hotline journalist John Mercurio, who now works for Burson-Marsteller. Mercurio asked Soghoian to write a negative story about Google's "Social Circle" service. In reply, Soghoian asked Mercurio which client was paying B-M. Mercurio wouldn't say, so Soghoian published their email exchange online.

USA Today reports that the other Burson-Marsteller PR rep was former CNBC Silicon Valley Bureau Chief Jim Goldman

Per Sourcewatch, Burson-Marsteller is the world's fifth largest PR company.

Additional coverage:
* PC Magazine: Facebook Hired PR Firm to Run Smear Campaign Against Google
* AdWeek: Facebook Admits It Hired PR Firm to Smear Google.
* Business Insider: BUSTED: It Was FACEBOOK That Hired A Former CNBC Reporter To Spread Lies About Google
* Mashable: EXPOSED: Facebook’s Plan To Plant Anti-Google Stories in the Press
* Fast Company: Facebook-Google Privacy PR Smear Is A Campaign In An Epic, Escalating War
posted by zarq (104 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like this one better -- can it stay?
posted by AwkwardPause at 9:57 AM on May 12, 2011


Hello Kettle. You have been poked by Pot.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 9:58 AM on May 12, 2011 [26 favorites]


well...as a gmail user I have to ask: does it violate users' privacy though?
posted by Hoopo at 9:59 AM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hello Kettle. You have been poked by Pot.

Huh? Has Google been hiring people to pay for stories about Facebook? What do you mean?
posted by inigo2 at 9:59 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is twice so far in the last four weeks where I've noticed some actually pretty big news was researched and scooped by The USA Today. What the fuck have we come to, where the USA Today is the country's leading source of investigative journalism?
posted by absalom at 10:00 AM on May 12, 2011 [34 favorites]


Facebook wants to be Microsoft.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:01 AM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is like the one time I have had (or probably will ever have) any desire whatsoever to click the fuck out of that "Share on Facebook" link up there on the right. But that would require me to reactivate my mercifully dead Facebook account.
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:01 AM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


AwkwardPause: "I like this one better -- can it stay?"

Ah well. I guess we both clicked post at roughly the same time. I'll flag this now and post my content over there. No biggie. I make more than enough posts, after all! :)
posted by zarq at 10:02 AM on May 12, 2011


Actually, people in Jabberjaw's post are also flagging that one and thinking to make this the main one.

Someone start the drinks orders for the mods. This is gonna be fun.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:03 AM on May 12, 2011


Hello Kettle. You have been poked by Pot.

Huh? Has Google been hiring people to pay for stories about Facebook? What do you mean?


He is doubtless referring to the irony of Facebook of all companies smearing another company for violating users' privacy.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:05 AM on May 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


This is twice so far in the last four weeks where I've noticed some actually pretty big news was researched and scooped by The USA Today. What the fuck have we come to, where the USA Today is the country's leading source of investigative journalism?

We deeply regret this most egregious oversight, and offer our sincere apologies to all those effected. Here's an infographic to tide you over.
posted by schmod at 10:07 AM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "Someone start the drinks orders for the mods. This is gonna be fun."

This happened to me once a couple of years ago and I don't want it to be any sort of an issue. I've posted my content in the first thread and expect this one to be deleted.
posted by zarq at 10:07 AM on May 12, 2011


I so abhor facebook.
posted by PepperMax at 10:08 AM on May 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


It takes one to know one.

I don't know what Facebook is waiting for, why don't they just take the passwords off everything and let everyone in on everyone's stuff. They don't care a whit, so get on it boys.
posted by CarlRossi at 10:09 AM on May 12, 2011


Meh. I liked my title better.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:09 AM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


He is doubtless referring to the irony of Facebook of all companies smearing another company for violating users' privacy.

Ahh... I guess I get it. It gives some false equivalence between the two that I don't agree with, but makes more sense now. Thanks.
posted by inigo2 at 10:10 AM on May 12, 2011


I don't even want to think how many other op-eds and freelance articles are, at least in part, prompted or written by PR goons.
posted by cyphill at 10:10 AM on May 12, 2011


"Burson-Marsteller has acknowledged the campaign and issued the following statement, courtesy of FT:
'Whatever the rationale, this was not at all standard operating procedure and is against our policies, and the assignment on those terms should have been declined. When talking to the media, we need to adhere to strict standards of transparency about clients, and this incident underscores the absolute importance of that principle.'"*
posted by ericb at 10:13 AM on May 12, 2011


This is the kind of unethical behavior I've come to expect from Zuckerberg and his CxOs. What a shitty place to work for.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:14 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


jabberjaw: "Meh. I liked my title better."

FWIW, I'm sorry. Would have been happy to have this one deleted. :(
posted by zarq at 10:15 AM on May 12, 2011


"Facebook has issued the following statement:
"No 'smear' campaign was authorized or intended. Instead, we wanted third parties to verify that people did not approve of the collection and use of information from their accounts on Facebook and other services for inclusion in Google Social Circles—just as Facebook did not approve of use or collection for this purpose. We engaged Burson-Marsteller to focus attention on this issue, using publicly available information that could be independently verified by any media organization or analyst. The issues are serious and we should have presented them in a serious and transparent way.

You and your readers can look at the feature and decide if they have approved of this collection and use of information by clicking here when their Google account is open: http://www.google.com/s2/search/social. Of course, people who do not have Gmail accounts are still included in this collection but they have no way to view or control it."*
posted by ericb at 10:15 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


> I don't even want to think how many other op-eds and freelance articles are, at least in part, prompted or written by PR goons.

Isn't it nearly all of them? That's my working assumption.

Perhaps a journo can weigh in...
posted by darth_tedious at 10:15 AM on May 12, 2011


ericb:
"Burson-Marsteller has acknowledged the campaign and issued the following statement, courtesy of FT:
'Whatever the rationale, this was not at all standard operating procedure and is against our policies, and the assignment on those terms should have been declined. When talking to the media, we need to adhere to strict standards of transparency about clients, and this incident underscores the absolute importance of that principle.'"*


AKA, we are damn sorry we got caught. Oh, are we ever!
posted by gilrain at 10:16 AM on May 12, 2011


well...as a gmail user I have to ask: does it violate users' privacy though?

Even if it does, this story is too juicy!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:19 AM on May 12, 2011


I don't even want to think how many other op-eds and freelance articles are, at least in part, prompted or written by PR goons.

You don't have to think about it. The answer is 'all of them'.
posted by spicynuts at 10:21 AM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wouldn't it be interesting if this was a PR move by google to distract from actual privacy issues?
posted by Ad hominem at 10:23 AM on May 12, 2011


This is the kind of unethical behavior I've come to expect from Zuckerberg and his CxOs. What a shitty place to work for.
Not if you're totally unethical!

That said, Google does have issues with user privacy that ought to be addressed. But it's pretty ironic that FB is smearing them.

here's the social circle thing It's pretty bland, it just shows you your friends on various social networking sites (like twitter and flickr), as well as your friends of friends. It doesn't seem like a huge deal at all.
posted by delmoi at 10:24 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Even if it does, this story is too juicy!

WHATTA SCOOP!
posted by Hoopo at 10:24 AM on May 12, 2011


In related news ...

Facebook denies privacy breach allegations by Symantec
"Facebook today denied that it may have accidentally exposed personal user data to advertisers and other third parties for several years, as claimed this week by two security researchers at Symantec Corp."
posted by ericb at 10:25 AM on May 12, 2011


I'm just waiting for the day when corporations attack each other using actual men with guns.
posted by Trurl at 10:26 AM on May 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


I was listening to Ice Cube's 'Summer Vacation' when I came across this, and somehow it's appropriate. I think Cube would be FB and the St. Louis guys would be Google.
posted by cashman at 10:29 AM on May 12, 2011


"Facebook today denied that it may have accidentally exposed personal user data to advertisers and other third parties for several years

Zuckerberg to PR person: How are we going to respond to this??
PR person: Wait, they said that we did it by accident? Deny deny deny.
posted by inigo2 at 10:29 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wouldn't it be interesting if this was a PR move by google to distract from actual privacy issues?

As I understand it, it's Google indexing information that you've put up on publicly accessible web sites. The reason Facebook in particular doesn't like it is because owning your social graf is their business model. Facebook is already making bank selling that information to other people, using it for their own ad targeting, and so on.

When other companies crawl your Facebook page and build databases of social connections, though, they're piggybacking on Facebook's data and potentially benefitting from it. Privacy has nothing to do with it, and Facebook's previous public insistence that true privacy is essentially irrelevant makes it clear that they have no real interest in that aspect of the story.
posted by verb at 10:29 AM on May 12, 2011 [17 favorites]


Did I say graf? Graph. Ugh, I've been spending too much time with people who care about this Facebook.
posted by verb at 10:31 AM on May 12, 2011


jabberjaw: "Meh. I liked my title better."

Please do clarify the Pot-Kettle part. Are you suggesting that Google and Facebook are basically the same in terms of philosophy, business practices, etc -- two more or less identical corporate cultures?

Because I have to disagree with you there. It's just not that simple.

Google aren't saints (I'm sure they do contain some evil) but I do use their services and have pretty much from the beginning, with, as far as I know, no particular foul having been endured. Good search, good mail -- it all works for me (the user) with minimum bullshit + headache.

Facebook -- short of a bullshit account that I only use when absolutely necessary, I haven't even bothered with them. Yeah, they're powerful and, like Microsoft before them (with Windows), intuitive in terms of where the plugged-in world is going ... but man, it's just so easy NOT to trust them in any way -- a quality that I'm sure stems directly from the top, young Zuckerberg being a man who just doesn't trust people. He doesn't know how.

In time, like Mr. Gates before him, I suspect he'll eventually tire of the day-to-day and allow his company to sort of evolve beyond him, becoming more homogenized and thus more palatable. Maybe he'll even put all his fortunes to good work and SAVE the starving children of Texas (or wherever). But for the time being, nah, the stench remains too strong. Facebook and Google may both be bubbling away on the same stove, but so far, one's brewing something actually nutritious -- the other pure junk food.
posted by philip-random at 10:31 AM on May 12, 2011


I'm just waiting for the day when corporations attack each other using actual men with guns.

waiting? you are kidding right?
posted by any major dude at 10:33 AM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


What's interesting about this kind of story is that we don't often see it, even though this kind of skullduggery has been going on behind the scenes since ... well, forever.

What's changed is that Soghoian is a blogger with no need for media access. He burned a contact at Burson-Marsteller. It's the rare pro journalist that fucks with their own sources that can turn around and burn them later.

PR hasn't caught up with the times. The old notion of what access can and can't be leveraged is done and gone.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:34 AM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


I just tried posting a link to the Business Insider story to Facebook, and Facebook automatically summarized the link as "Beyond lame." Huh.
posted by Western Infidels at 10:34 AM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


ericb: "'Whatever the rationale, this was not at all standard operating procedure and is against our policies, and the assignment on those terms should have been declined. When talking to the media, we need to adhere to strict standards of transparency about clients, and this incident underscores the absolute importance of that principle.'"*"

There are deeper problems here that they are not addressing.

What they're doing is apologizing for not being transparent, and for not revealing that Facebook was their client. But what they were attempting to accomplish here was entirely inappropriate and unethical. They were trying to write and place hit piece op-eds and articles, in an attempt to create misdirection through the media. Completely dishonest.

A publicist should act as a media liaison for their clients. Focus the client's brand and message as positively as possible. We are not supposed to encourage the media to slag your competition. We're certainly not supposed to offer to write articles. I've ghost written stuff for clients before -- book chapters, etc. In those cases, everything was subject to multiple reviews and revisions by an editorial staff to ensure that the content wasn't too one-sided or self-promotional. But I've never written an article or opinion piece for an editor. I don't know any journalist who would think that was acceptable.

What's most frustrating about this for me... every single incident like this makes my job harder. A smart, experienced publicist won't lie outright and/or misrepresent the facts to the media. We work extremely hard to build trust and relationships with journalists. Incidents like this are incredibly destructive.

No matter what you do for a living, you should have a personal responsibility to adhere to the ethical guidelines of your profession. The PR industry is no different.
posted by zarq at 10:36 AM on May 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


Please do clarify the Pot-Kettle part.

Facepot: OMG, Koogle is invading ur privaceez!
posted by jabberjaw at 10:40 AM on May 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell: " What's changed is that Soghoian is a blogger with no need for media access. He burned a contact at Burson-Marsteller.

He did more than that. He burned his relationship with one of the largest PR firms in the world, and did it in such a public way that most tech publicists would be unlikely to approach him for coverage in the future.

It's the rare pro journalist that fucks with their own sources that can turn around and burn them later.

You're completely wrong about that. In my professional experience I can tell you it is relatively common, especially in certain industries and with certain journalists. They simply don't do so in this way and so publicly.

PR hasn't caught up with the times. The old notion of what access can and can't be leveraged is done and gone."

Yes. But that also depends on the company and the publicist.
posted by zarq at 10:40 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Privacy has nothing to do with it, and Facebook's previous public insistence that true privacy is essentially irrelevant makes it clear that they have no real interest in that aspect of the story.

Yeah it's pretty clear that facebook is trying to distract from leaky APIs or whatever has been going on. But it seems like Google has been engaged in something similar, a lot of people are saying all the "Microsoft paid twice what we offered for Skype, what a bunch of suckers" stories are coming from Google PR.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:41 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't know what Facebook is waiting for, why don't they just take the passwords off everything and let everyone in on everyone's stuff. They don't care a whit, so get on it boys.

Whenever they need some cash, they can just start selling you the list of people who've been looking at your photos.
posted by straight at 10:42 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Big company acts like a big company, as they've been doing since the beginning of companies. News at 11.
posted by Melismata at 10:42 AM on May 12, 2011


He did more than that. He burned his relationship with one of the largest PR firms in the world, and did it in such a public way that most tech publicists would be unlikely to approach him for coverage in the future.

Well, most tech publicists who are trying to plant hit pieces on their clients' competition as op-ed pieces. There are publicists who attempt to, you know, publicize their clients' work in positive ways.
posted by verb at 10:43 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


We work extremely hard to build trust and relationships with journalists.

...so they don't disclose sensitive emails like this to the public. The problem is when journalists sense an even bigger story behind the PR emails. Then they might just go rogue instead of just shilling for cash.

This story is nothing new in terms of PR sins - just that anything with the words 'Facebook' and 'Google' gets breathless coverage in the media.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 10:46 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just tried posting a link to the Business Insider story to Facebook, and Facebook automatically summarized the link as "Beyond lame." Huh.

1. Although "Beyond lame" appears nowhere in the article itself, Facebook isn't editorializing — the BI page actually does signal that this is its description/snippet in several places (e.g. <meta name="description" content="Beyond lame." />).

2. The BI article and the Daily Beast article linked in the FPP appear to be the same article.
posted by RogerB at 10:47 AM on May 12, 2011


You're completely wrong about that. In my professional experience I can tell you it is relatively common

We're just going to agree to disagree. It's not common to burn a source. There's a difference between "I'm just not going to roll with this story" and, as you correctly point out, what Soghoian really did here: "I'm going to fucking burn you to the ground even though it will ensure that no one, ever, will give me anything sensitive again."

That just doesn't happen, as most journalists are just too craven to try it. To our collective detriment.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:49 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


He did more than that. He burned his relationship with one of the largest PR firms in the world, and did it in such a public way that most tech publicists would be unlikely to approach him for coverage in the future.

The idea that journalists should actually work to maintain good relationships with PR, including in how they report the news is pretty perverse in the first place.
posted by delmoi at 10:51 AM on May 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


what Soghoian really did here: "I'm going to fucking burn you to the ground even though it will ensure that no one, ever, will give me anything sensitive again."

Yeah... except he wasn't giving him anything "sensitive", it was just some B.S about Google's products.
posted by delmoi at 10:52 AM on May 12, 2011


infinitefloatingbrains: "
...so they don't disclose sensitive emails like this to the public.
"

Yeah, you do get that not all of us do shit like this, yes? That all publicists are not OMGEVILZ and don't fit a stereotype?

Tens of thousands of publicists act ethically. We don't create scandals like this one. We don't lie, cheat, steal or manipulate to get our clients coverage. We work with journalists, who know that if they come to us for source material or an interview, we'll do so without lying to them -- either through omission or directly.

I get that people think publicists are evil. And I also get that defending my fellow peers is a fool's errand on the internet. But invoking stereotypes is lazy.
posted by zarq at 10:55 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really don't think this is a scandal - the publicist was in fact attempting to work with a journalist by providing sources on a very real issue. The real failure was in the breakdown of the publicist-journalist relationship that came as a result of not being fully honest about their client. This story is strangely a good thing for all publicists who act ethically because it illustrates the importance of trust and disclosure.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 11:11 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


delmoi: " The idea that journalists should actually work to maintain good relationships with PR, including in how they report the news is pretty perverse in the first place."

FWIW, I didn't say that they should.
posted by zarq at 11:11 AM on May 12, 2011


infinitefloatingbrains: " This story is strangely a good thing for all publicists who act ethically because it illustrates the importance of trust and disclosure."

In theory, sure. But in reality, we're already thought of as dishonest shills. Stuff like this enforces that idea.
posted by zarq at 11:16 AM on May 12, 2011


Zuckerberg really does have that (post-Freudian) Midas touch.
posted by jamjam at 11:18 AM on May 12, 2011


The idea that journalists should actually work to maintain good relationships with PR, including in how they report the news is pretty perverse in the first place.

This story shows that the reality is the other way around; this publicist was not working hard enough. When the stakes are this high, you can't approach people that a) distrust you enough to ask who the end client is and b) you distrust enough to not disclose the client.

Automatic red flags that any journalist will pursue.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 11:22 AM on May 12, 2011


In theory, sure. But in reality, we're already thought of as dishonest shills. Stuff like this enforces that idea.

I have a relative who works for Hill & Knowlton and she's a good person so I know that not everyone in PR is a terrible person. Hill & Knowlton however has demonstrated a well-documented tendency to be dishonest on many occasions. I think that depending on your clients it can be the nature of the game, but it is certainly true that not all publicists are involved in whitewashing human rights records, generating warmongering propaganda, and/or downplaying significant health risks.
posted by Hoopo at 11:29 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Burston-Marsteller are _________.

I am unable to explain why, due to a non-disclosure agreement.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:46 AM on May 12, 2011


I really don't think this is a scandal - the publicist was in fact attempting to work with a journalist by providing sources on a very real issue.

...The real issue was Facebook exposing peoples' social graph to the public, where Google could crawl it. Now you're sounding like the shill.
posted by verb at 11:52 AM on May 12, 2011


here's the social circle thing It's pretty bland, it just shows you your friends on various social networking sites (like twitter and flickr), as well as your friends of friends. It doesn't seem like a huge deal at all.

Thanks for linking that, it gave me an opportunity to go back through and sanitize my data from it.
posted by codacorolla at 11:59 AM on May 12, 2011


"Antisocial Media: Smear Story Source Speaks: Facebook Wanted to Stab Google in the Back"
posted by zarq at 12:13 PM on May 12, 2011


Facebook fires Burson for bungling Google campaign.
posted by ericb at 12:16 PM on May 12, 2011


philip-random, et al: Isn't part of the nuance of the "pot calling the kettle black" idiom that pots are, in fact, blacker than kettles, thus making their criticisms all the more ironic? That's how I always understood that saying.

Similar to Jesus' "remove the plank from your own eye" thing. A plank is larger than a speck.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:32 PM on May 12, 2011


Hrmm - I went and looked at my "social connections" on Google - I don't seem to have any. So even if this DOES violate my privacy in some way, Google doesn't seem to have automatically opted me into it, the way that Facebook most assuredly would have. So I'm fine with it. :)
posted by antifuse at 12:34 PM on May 12, 2011


roll truck roll, no. One is not not "blacker". They are both equally black. That is the whole point.
posted by futz at 12:43 PM on May 12, 2011


Now you're sounding like the shill.

Privacy is a real issue. Sources are there for journalists to review in order to make up their own mind, whether for or against a particular case. I really have no horse in this race, other than a fascination with the publicist/journalist relationship.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 1:15 PM on May 12, 2011


Mmm, eggs!
posted by blue_beetle at 1:21 PM on May 12, 2011


And now Burston is saying they should have declined the job.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:37 PM on May 12, 2011


I've used both facebook and gmail for years and have never once been under the impression that anything I have said or done there would be kept private.
posted by rocket88 at 1:40 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


philip-random, et al: Isn't part of the nuance of the "pot calling the kettle black" idiom that pots are, in fact, blacker than kettles, thus making their criticisms all the more ironic?

Yeah, I got it sideways sort of. I thought the reference was to Google being weebs and complaining about Facebook. This is what comes from posting before morning coffee ... speaking of which, I always saw pot and kettle as equally black, which makes the turn of phrase similar to the ole living-in-glass-house-shouldn't-throw-stones one.
posted by philip-random at 1:53 PM on May 12, 2011


Business Insider:
"People are freaking out because Facebook hired a public relations firm to plant stories attacking Google in the press. Guess what? This happens all the time. Google does it, too. Here's a story we wrote about Microsoft's efforts back in 2009…"
posted by ericb at 1:58 PM on May 12, 2011


Yeah, I might have just been wrong about what that expression meant in common usage. I pictured the pot being cast iron and the kettle being steel or copper. The kettle would still be burned on the bottom, but not as black as the pot. This page doesn't give a citation, but it suggests that the kettle might be copper and the pot is seeing its own reflection in the kettle. That dds an interesting twist.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:12 PM on May 12, 2011


And now Burston is saying they should have declined the job.

It's heartening to know that the company that did PR for Union Carbide in the aftermath of Bhopal, for Ceauşescu's government, for Indonesia's government when they were getting all that bad press over that little East Timor massacre misunderstanding, for the Argentinan military dictatorship while they were in the middle of the Dirty War, has principles.
posted by reynir at 2:14 PM on May 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


Privacy is a real issue. Sources are there for journalists to review in order to make up their own mind, whether for or against a particular case. I really have no horse in this race, other than a fascination with the publicist/journalist relationship.

Yes, privacy is a real issue. And Facebook, rather than dealing with the fact that they hungrily gobble up lots of data from their users and expose it to the public by default, tried to convince journalists to run stories attacking Google for crawling the information Facebook had exposed.

Earlier you said that the publicist had "brought a real issue" to the journalist's attention when in fact they hadn't. They had attempted to obscure an important issue in an attempt to secure a business advantage for their client. This is the privacy equivalent of green coal advertisements, but without the honesty.
posted by verb at 2:17 PM on May 12, 2011


Hrmm - I went and looked at my "social connections" on Google - I don't seem to have any. So even if this DOES violate my privacy in some way, Google doesn't seem to have automatically opted me into it, the way that Facebook most assuredly would have. So I'm fine with it. :)
Do you chat with anyone on Google chat? Those are my 'main' contacts on that thing. The other thing is, when Google buzz came out I 'added' my twitter and flickr data, or something. So some of the 'contacts' are people I don't even know who I happened to follow on twitter (which rarely ever use)
It's heartening to know that the company that did PR for Union Carbide in the aftermath of Bhopal, for Ceauşescu's government, for Indonesia's government when they were getting all that bad press over that little East Timor massacre misunderstanding, for the Argentinan military dictatorship while they were in the middle of the Dirty War, has principles.
Their CEO, Mark Penn ran Hillary Clinton's primary campaign.
posted by delmoi at 2:22 PM on May 12, 2011


ericb, that link shows a bunch of links to how MS was trying to smear Google using a PR firm. I don't see a story about Google hiring a PR firm to smear anybody.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:27 PM on May 12, 2011


jabberjaw, the article mentions casually that "Google people are always calling us telling us stuff, too" but there are no specific instances cited:

"To be clear, Microsoft and its "partners" aren't the only ones going around whispering in reporter's ears. We also hear plenty from Google lobbyists and their friends too."

That's a little vague considering the very specific natures of these two stories about companies launching secretive and dishonest smear campaigns against Google. If they're doing this -- specifically, if they are using their PR firms and lobbyists to spread lies about their competitors in the press and hide their own involvement in spreading the stories -- I'd be happy to see their people be 'burned,' too.

Without some details, though, it sounds like CYA equivalency boilerplate.
posted by verb at 2:36 PM on May 12, 2011


jabberjaw: "And now Burston is saying they should have declined the job."

This is PR 101:

A high-level client asks you to do something unethical.

The request is clearly unethical to anyone who has worked in the industry for more than 20 minutes.

It obviously should raise all sorts of red flags to the two former journalists who are being asked to do it. Jim Goldman was the SF Bureau Chief for CNBC. John Mercurio covered politics in Washington for various publications for almost 20 years. They weren't wet-behind-the-ears newbies.

How do you respond?

"We don't do that."

And if the client replies, "We're paying you a lot of money to do what we want."

You reply, "We maintain high ethical standards and have a responsibility to the public not to deceive them, even indirectly. Also, if word ever got out that we had tried to manipulate coverage in this manner, your name would be dragged through the mud along with ours. It would be irresponsible of us to agree to do this. Let's talk about some ways we can accomplish your goals without endangering your brand's good name...."

And if they insist, show them the door and refer them to someone else. You're a huge, multinational PR firm. You're not hungry and don't need their business to survive.

No shit, they 'should have declined the job.' What's pathetic is they only decided that after they were caught.
posted by zarq at 3:08 PM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


And now Burston is saying they should have declined the job.

Funny how it's easier to introspect, after the check has cleared.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:13 PM on May 12, 2011


I find the idea that PR people have a "code of ethics" hilarious.

Plus, this isn't just any company it's Facebook lots of business people would be giving their left nuts to work with them.
posted by delmoi at 3:45 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do you chat with anyone on Google chat? Those are my 'main' contacts on that thing. The other thing is, when Google buzz came out I 'added' my twitter and flickr data, or something. So some of the 'contacts' are people I don't even know who I happened to follow on twitter (which rarely ever use)

Yup, I have a handful of google chat contacts. None of them appear in my "social" page for Google accounts. My point was that Google doesn't seem to be auto-opting-in, at least they didn't for me, whereas Facebook generally does opt for "least-privacy-by-default" :)
posted by antifuse at 4:09 PM on May 12, 2011


Huh... back in my enviro-blockade days, Burson-Marsteller was the go-to dirty tricks crew for MacMillan Bloedel, the evil logging company of the day. Glad to see they're still fighting the good fight.
posted by klanawa at 4:28 PM on May 12, 2011


"I get that people think publicists are evil. And I also get that defending my fellow peers is a fool's errand on the internet. But invoking stereotypes is lazy."

Part of it is that the good ones are totally unremarkable. But I also remember my colleagues in j-school, and that the ones going into PR were almost gleefully scummy and venal, with the best of them simply credulous and obtuse.
posted by klangklangston at 5:18 PM on May 12, 2011


In related news: Google sets aside $500 million for mysterious ad probe.
posted by ericb at 5:27 PM on May 12, 2011


Through that social circle link I find myself looking at a large portion of my brother's contacts in the secondary field. I'm not sure that that's not a little weird. I hope everyone on that list knows I have these contacts available to me.
posted by ServSci at 6:16 PM on May 12, 2011


I find the idea that PR people have a "code of ethics" hilarious.

How sad.
posted by zarq at 6:58 PM on May 12, 2011


My first thought was 'I need to share this on Facebook'. I didn't realize the irony. But I'm still going to share it on Facebook. (I share everything there). (MeFi needs 'Like' buttons).
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:11 PM on May 12, 2011


How sad.

Hey, professional PR person, how about knocking off the threadmodding and maybe stepping away for a while?
posted by ryanrs at 8:50 PM on May 12, 2011


ryanrs: "Hey, professional PR person, how about knocking off the threadmodding and maybe stepping away for a while?"

No.
posted by zarq at 8:52 PM on May 12, 2011


To be clearer, I'm not 'threadmodding.' I've done my part to add to the discussion without trying to steer it. You're asking me to shut up because you disagree with my opinions, and that's not going to happen.
posted by zarq at 8:55 PM on May 12, 2011


OK, whatever. It looks to me like you're engaging in a fool's errand on the internet, and it's making you grouchy. But carry on if you must.
posted by ryanrs at 9:04 PM on May 12, 2011


ryanrs: " and it's making you grouchy."

I guess I should have been clearer about what I meant. Sorry. Let me explain:

In all seriousness, I'm not grouchy. Nor was my comment intended as a dig at delmoi. I really do think his expressed concept of public relations as a profession is sad. It's a sad statement about the state of my industry, which shows how a number of seriously unethical assholes have tainted our public image, perhaps irrevocably. It's sad because I know a lot of people who work their asses off behind the scenes every day and do adhere to clear set of ethical standards. Folks to whom the very idea of astroturfing is an awful betrayal of public trust. Folks who I know are good people.

So yes, when he says he finds the idea of PR people having a code of ethics hilarious, I do think that's sad. Because there's a huge movement in our own industry which is fighting astroturfing, various shady lobbying tactics and unethical behavior, yet the impression the public has of us is no doubt always going to be similar to delmoi's, thanks to bastards like Goldman and Mercurio and soulless corporations like Burson-Marsteller.

That's all.
posted by zarq at 9:30 PM on May 12, 2011


How sad.

Sad for PR people.
posted by delmoi at 9:55 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


delmoi> I find the idea that PR people have a "code of ethics" hilarious.
zarq> How sad.
...
zarq> my comment [was not] intended as a dig at delmoi. I really do think his expressed concept of public relations as a profession is sad.

You're recasting your spiteful dismissal as agreement, perhaps even commiseration. The subtle reframing allows both parties to walk away while saving face. This is a good way to diffuse an argument. It is good public relations.

Public relations is diplomacy for non-state entities. Like diplomats, the job of a PR person is to manipulate others to further their employer's goals. As such, there's always going to be a whiff of sleaziness about them. Bad actors like Burson-Marsteller aren't wholly responsible for attitudes like delmoi's.
posted by ryanrs at 11:01 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


*sigh*

You're recasting your spiteful dismissal as agreement, perhaps even commiseration.

As far as I can see, I've been pretty consistent in this thread. But whatever.

The subtle reframing allows both parties to walk away while saving face. This is a good way to diffuse an argument. It is good public relations.

It's not reframing. My intent really was to clarify what I meant, not wiggle out of an argument.

Look, if you want to assign malicious intent to my reply to delmoi after I've tried to explain myself I really don't know what to tell you.

Public relations is diplomacy for non-state entities. Like diplomats, the job of a PR person is to manipulate others to further their employer's goals. As such, there's always going to be a whiff of sleaziness about them.

So you've already made up your mind that I'm a sleazy character based on my stated profession. Good to know.

Bad actors like Burson-Marsteller aren't wholly responsible for attitudes like delmoi's.

Nor did I say they were.
posted by zarq at 4:41 AM on May 13, 2011


I can't believe a journalist ratted on a PR person. What a waste of expense-account lunches.
posted by Summer at 6:19 AM on May 13, 2011


But I also remember my colleagues in j-school, and that the ones going into PR were almost gleefully scummy and venal, with the best of them simply credulous and obtuse.

Heh. My recollection of j-school was that the ones going into journalism weren't much better. I thank the gods of beer and pot that they allowed me to flunk out of the program and study something ethical like politics.
posted by Hoopo at 9:13 AM on May 13, 2011


Quite a few journalists become PRs. The pay's better.
posted by Summer at 9:46 AM on May 13, 2011


ryanrs, to say that the framing that you imposed on zarq's two words, in contradiction to zarq's clarification, is the only one possible is in bad faith and more than a bit narcissistic. I for one am glad to have zarq's perspective and am grateful that metafilter can attract professionals from just about any field.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:09 AM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Remeber folks - the name "Public Relations" is just the relabel of the book "Propaganda" by Edward Bernays.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:03 PM on May 13, 2011


"Remeber folks - the name "Public Relations" is just the relabel of the book "Propaganda" by Edward Bernays."

Which is strongly recommended reading by the way (free digital copy) It lays out the structural and ethical groundwork for the profession while simultaneously being a fun read and giving new prospective to American capitalism.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:20 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bernays was Freud's nephew by marriage, and I've often wondered if that can be invoked to partially explain the otherwise surprisingly psychoanalytical subtext of so many ads.
posted by jamjam at 12:41 PM on May 13, 2011


Remeber folks - the name "Public Relations" is just the relabel of the book "Propaganda" by Edward Bernays.

I had a professor for a very interesting course called "Truth and Propaganda" who used to tell a story of some research he did once. In the days before internet he had put out requests through various channels worldwide for examples of propaganda from around the world. Mostly it was successful, and he got many great examples of political propaganda, sometimes even with translations by the people submitting them. From South America, however, he got piles and piles of flyers and print ads for different products. Propaganda has negative connotations when used in English but it isn't really always a bad thing. My professor used to say "the best propaganda is true."

So anyways, while we're recommending books about propaganda and ethics, here's his book on the subject, which is very good as well.
posted by Hoopo at 2:12 PM on May 13, 2011


Burson-Marsteller Scrubs Negative Posts On Its Facebook Page.
posted by ericb at 3:06 PM on May 14, 2011


« Older Bartolo Colon, now of the New York Yankees, underw...  |  There’s a new indie film in th... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments