Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Error Upon Error 

When a firm stumbles, it is usually not one faux pas but several.  Burson Marsteller is learning that lesson with an inexcusable mistake last Friday -- deleting negative comments about it from its Facebook page.  Of course, Burson didn't get away it.  In an era of transparency, Burson was caught almost immediately and had to apologize again.  Its first mistake was allowing ill-trained ex-journalists (!) secretly attempt to smear Google on behalf of Facebook.  Burson now knows what it is like to be called a hypocrite, a firm that says, "Do as I say and not as I do."  The sad part is that it takes only one glaring error like this to tar the entire PR business.  Cynics can now say with evidence that PR talks a good game about transparency but is no better than anyone else in practicing it .  PR has always worked under an accusation of misrepresentation -- that is, journalists believe we lie as a matter of business.  This is why PR practitioners must insist on accuracy and transparency.  It is questionable whether Burson understands that or whether in a quest to grow, it forgot first principles.

Accuracy and transparency are in the eye of the beholder. Truth, like ethics, is relative. Cognitive dissonance rules.

Obviously, Burson doesn't practice deceit as a matter of course and removing distasteful comments from its Facebook page is perfectly understandable. I'm sure they "got it" first time around. Why does it have to be excoriated again and again in its own "home"?

But dumb is dumb. The journalists it hired know little about PR and even less about media relations. Fire them and hire some who do. And undertand that employing big-name journalists as publicists guarantees that the level of suspicion and criticism of PR in the press will only increase -- in the short run, for sure, while we try to figure out what journalists have to offer that other folks don't (writing skill isn't enough) and how it can be put to work smartly, not stupidly, on behalf of clients and employers.

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