Is bad press better than no press at all? Apparently so, at least in Burson-Marsteller’s opinion. Not content with hiding in the corner and licking their wounds after being exposed for running an anti-Google smear campaign on Facebook’s behalf, the PR firm was caught deleting criticism over the scandal posted on—wait for it, this is the best part—their Facebook page.
The offending comment in question was posted on the site by Jessica Murray and had a link to The Daily Beast article about the firm being hired by Facebook. The post read,
“Since no one from your organization is sharing this information, I will kindly pass along to all your Facebook fans. Pretty poor press release explaining your actions too.”
A representative from Burson-Marsteller’s has confirmed that the company deleted the post, saying that it was “wrong” that it was deleted and that they would be reaching out to ask Jessica Murray to repost her message. One has to wonder why a PR firm that claims to have a “long tradition in corporate reputation, crisis and digital arenas” was thinking when they decided that this would be a good idea.
A quick synopsis of this week’s events, on Thursday The Daily Beast broke the story that Facebook had hired Burson-Marsteller to pitch anti-Google stories to media outlets asking them to investigate claims that Google was invading users’ privacy, all without revealing who their client was. The plan went south after Burson in a particularly questionable move offered to “help” an influential blogger write an op-ed piece bashing Google, with the promise that the piece would be published in national outlets like The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and Politico, who published the emails after rejecting the article, which spurred the publication of a USA Today article accusing Burson of spreading a whisper campaign against Google for a mystery client, which, surprisingly, turned out to be none other than one of Google’s biggest tech rivals: Facebook.
Both companies have spent the two days since in hyper-damage control mode following the unveiling of the botched PR fiasco. Burson-Marsteller struck first, stating that,
Now that Facebook has come forward, we can confirm that we undertook an assignment for that client. The client requested that its name be withheld on the grounds that it was merely asking to bring publicly available information to light and such information could then be independently and easily replicated by any media. Any information brought to media attention raised fair questions, was in the public domain, and was in any event for the media to verify through independent sources. 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.
Facebook responded shortly after being thrown under the proverbial bus, doing their very best to explain their actions in the most positive and almost “innocent” light.
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.
Google has yet to comment on this week’s events, understandably so, since all they really need to do at this point is sit back and watch their Silicon Valley rival further damage its own reputation. And while it’s true that Facebook has become so integrated in the Internet and in our daily lives that these slimy shenanigans won’t do any real harm to the company financially, it will severely affect Facebook’s business and professional reputation, which has been suffering lately with all the privacy issues that have been cropping up recently. Regardless of what the ramifications of this stunt might be, it has definitely not been a good week for the social media site—I’m sure Mark Zuckerberg is having a very happy 27th birthday today indeed.