May 12, 2011

CASE STUDY: Swirling PR Scandal Engulfing PR Firm Burson-Marsteller regarding Google and Facebook

Burson Marsteller logo The world of corporate public relations is not just pitching reporters with positive stories.  In today’s hyper-competitive world of global commerce, it is also sometimes necessary to engage in the world of dark arts to undermine your competitors.

Usually, these efforts remain confidential.

Facebook logo But today, the Daily Beast broke the news that worldwide PR firm Burson Marsteller (BM) was retained by Facebook to lead a negative PR campaign against Google.  Before today, it was not publicly known who retained BM on this project, although Apple and Microsoft were falsely suspected.

Google logo The USA Today reported later Thursday that BM confirmed they had been retained by Facebook to bring “publicly available information to light” against Google and that Facebook’s name “be withheld on these grounds.

BM admitted, in a rather extraordinary statement that belies the brand threat the PR firm was facing, “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.”

How did this become public?

According to the Daily Beast, “the story gained wider attention when USA Today reported that two PR flacks from Burson—former CNBC tech reporter Jim Goldman, and John Mercurio, a former politcal reporter—had been pushing reporters at USA Today and other outlets to write stories and editorials claiming Google was violating people’s privacy with Social Circle.

This story is still developing, and threatens both Facebook and BM – in terms of their reputations.

Does PR firm Burson Marsteller need a PR firm?  (PF reporting, Daily Beast, USA Today)

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    Laura Gross is currently president of Scott Circle Communications. She has served as deputy director of communications at the DNC, was Gov. Howard Dean's Communications Director and she worked in the press office at USAID during the Clinton administration. Her experience also includes time in the PR department of National Public Radio and she was part of Vice President Gore's advance team when he was in The White House.
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    Blain K. Rethmeier is currently the Senior Vice President for Public Affairs for the American Insurance Association (AIA). Rethmeier joined AIA from the White House where he served as Special Assistant to the President for Communications and directed communications for the National Economic Council and Homeland Security Council. Prior to joining the White House, Rethmeier served as Press Secretary for the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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