Facebook, Burson-Marsteller News is a Cautionary Tale for PR Practitioners

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With Facebook’s so-called ‘whisper campaign’ against Google coming to light, public relations has taken yet another black eye. I woke up this morning to commentary on numerous national broadcast networks that called out our industry for, at best, lacking judgment, and worse, being filled with unethical liars.

Facebook and Burson-Marsteller have issued statements admitting their missteps, but the damage is done. The tactics employed have been called surreptitious, sleazy, underhanded, unethical and more – all words that taint not only the two companies directly involved, but our entire profession.

I am sure there will be PR practitioners who join the public lambasting of the PR agency in question in a holier than thou attempt to position themselves above the fray.

The truth, however, is that anyone who has worked in our industry for a significant time has probably engaged in somewhat similar tactics. It is a regular practice in PR to create fear, uncertainty and doubt about our clients’ competition.

The key issue in this latest battle between Facebook and Google, of course, is that the FUD campaign was mishandled. The Public Relations Society of America states in its ethics policy that members shall “reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented.”

This is more important than ever, as social media has raised the expectation for authenticity and transparency in all communications.

As PR professionals, this episode is a cautionary tale and a reminder that anything we say or send to journalists and bloggers can be shared publicly. We may increasingly find ourselves dragged out from behind the curtain and thrust right into the conversation.

And that’s OK – in fact, we should embrace that opportunity. But, let’s choose our words – and our tactics – carefully.

Editor’s note: Facebook is a Text 100 client in several APAC and EMEA countries.