One week later there are still some rumblings about the Burson Marsteller Facebook fiasco. It is a spectacle that continues to draw attention and coverage.
If we look at the episode more closely, however, it becomes clear that all the hyperventilating is a bit overblown. Also, I'd like to take the story back to where it started, as a PR pitch made public, and question assumptions people may have about what has become a now familiar story line, namely the outing of PR tactics and pitches, and offer advice and context in terms of what this means for the field and the future.
I, for one, am a little tired of seeing the PR industry and our pitches swatted around like sport. When one approaches a journalist in confidence, the assumption is that the information and source will be protected. If they don't like our pitches, there are many options outside of publicly outing offenders and destroying reputations and careers – change the channel, hit unsubscribe, delete, filter, etc.
I'd also like to point out that in other fields the types of tactics employed by the B-M team are done all the time. E.g. in political PR, opposition research, planted stories – all in a day’s work in politics, and doesn't raise too many eyebrows. I am not justifying sleazy behavior, but just pointing out it is not at all that unusual.
In his post Hyperbole Meets Hypocrisy: Googlegate Jeremy Pepper also said, essentially, that the outrage is overblown, and that in tech too, there is a long history of competitive sniping and creating fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) – he is correct, but I have to say in my many years in the field of tech PR, I have not seen PR teams brought into the mudslinging and story planting all that often.
This episode (and others like it where PR pitches and tactics are outed) seems to show that we are entering an era of the transparent PR campaign. I pointed this out in my post Media Wonderland: Down a Rabbit Hole and Through a Looking Glass.
The best defense is to be good at your craft, focus on relationships and not transactions, deliver great and targeted pitches, and adhere to the highest level of ethical standards. As much as PR desires confidence in media interactions, it is safest to assume that your tactics and motives will be outed and communications will be thrust onto the public stage and held under close scrutiny,