Criticism of Burson Marsteller now a firehose

The kerfuffle surrounding PR firm Burson Marsteller and its poorly-planned and -executed blogger outreach on behalf of its client Facebook continues apace, on Facebook.

Swift recap: Last week, Burson was caught out in what many critics see as unethical business practice in planning a covert anti-Google smear campaign on behalf of Facebook when it reached out to a US blogger who promptly published the email conversation between him and the Burson executive. In its outreach, Burson had also refused to name its client.

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As the screenshot here indicates, the Wall on Burson’s official Facebook page is the host of scores of negative comments relating to this issue.

Not only the wall, also take a look at the topic view on their Information page.

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I see no responses from anyone at Burson to any of the critical comments on the Wall or the Information page. And that, in my view, is the right thing to do at the moment – as long as the reason is because they’re planning their public engagement regarding this whole issue although there would be seeds of potential goodwill planted if someone from B-M said on the Wall that that’s exactly what’s happening. Much better than silence.

Don’t leave it too long, Burson, some of those comments cry out for replies from you (especially those in the Information page).

I found one of the comments on the Wall a very interesting one. Christian Williams – whose Facebook bio says he’s a peer adviser at Florida International University in Miami – said:

i think it should be required that all BM employees are members of PRSA. 14 of more than 2,200 employees worldwide? maybe if they were members or were willing to become members, they would have been willing to learn about and live by the code of ethics that would have prevented this situation from occurring.

That’s a very good point, one that Shel Holtz and I touched on during a wide-ranging discussion about this kerfuffle in episode 599 of the FIR podcast on May 16.

How workable are such ideas really, though? Membership of PRSA is on an individual basis – in common with other professional associations, such as IABC of which I’m a long-standing member, and CIPR in the UK. These associations don’t have a licensing or practice-approval role of their members – which some (like my friend Shel) advocate that they ought to.

It’s a huge topic. In the meantime, I believe that the least such associations should do is proactively remind everyone including their members of the various codes of ethics, business practice, etc, that they have and which members have already agreed to abide by.

In fact, one association that definitely should take a lead on this right away, in my view, is the Council of PR Firms in the US, of which Burson Marsteller is a member and which has a clear code of ethics that its members are expected to follow.

Including Burson Marsteller.

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About Neville Hobson

Entrepreneurial business communicator with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Co-host of the weekly business podcast For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report. Also an occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.