13 May 2011

I strongly oppose my recent behavior: Facebook, Burson, and digital PR

(Before I begin let me say this blog post reflects my own, personal opinions and no one else's.  I'm by no means perfect, personally or professionally.)

The big story in the tech media this week (other than a blogger outage) is Facebook's botched clandestine PR efforts against Google. For those who don't follow all things Facebook so closely here's the skinny from The Daily Beast, which broke the story.  Other people can talk about the business/legal/tech/whatever ramifications.  I have two thoughts.

First, I find it interesting that Burson threw its (now former) client under the bus, never an easy decision.  They acknowledged that they ignored their own "policies" on transparency, but this was the work that was presented to them and "the assignment under these terms should have been declined" - i.e., this was Facebook's idea and the only mistake we made was not realizing it sooner.  Facebook sort of pushes back, suggesting "no 'smear' campaign was authorized or intended," but they go on to say they wanted third parties to speak publicly while sidestepping the assertion that they wanted to hide their own identity in recruiting those third parties.  Burson is a legendary PR firm with a tradition of success - they wouldn't be where they are if they used these tactics all the time.  Facebook's record also speaks for itself. Both companies are acknowledging what they did was wrong, yet both companies are hinting the other company is responsible.  Awkward.

My second observation has to do with the exchange between PR guy and blogger.  Looking at the emails it doesn't seem that the Burson exec has a relationship with the blogger he contacted.   Set aside for the moment the enormous issue of transparency.  Is there ever a situation when an out-of-the-blue request to by-line a ghostwritten op-ed in the Washington Post is an appropriate or effective way to introduce yourself?

Building relationships with bloggers BEFORE your clients need them is not an easy thing to do.  It's time consuming.  It's uncomfortable. It's hard to justify to clients sometimes.  But if the people at either company had real, strong relationships with the bloggers they clearly needed to know ahead of time, they would have been able to deliver the message directly and transparently.   That's why I'm constantly telling my colleagues to always reach out to bloggers, whether you have something to pitch or not.  It's why I advocate for bloggers to the point of annoying colleagues.   It's why I'm still talking about the 3 R's of "blogger relations."


Dr. Val said...

Interesting post, David. I wonder what you make of this recent "SNAFU": http://www.healthjournalism.org/blog/2011/05/pr-rep-says-journalists%E2%80%99-stipend-to-attend-allergan-event-was-misconstrued/

Hitting close to home...

David said...

I'd call that a mistake. If what they really wanted was a focus group, they could have been much clearer about it.