Some Say the Burson/Facebook Campaign Was Not So Controversial After All

As the dust settles around the big Facebook/Burson smear campaign story, some are taking another look and deciding that it’s not so controversial after all.

Burson had been getting a lot of critical comments on its Facebook page, particularly after it was revealed that remarks had been deleted. Now, there are a couple of stories posted that take the “everybody’s doing it” position.

While making it explicitly clear that he is “not in any way advocating what Burson and Facebook did was right,” Elasticity’s Aaron Perlut argues in a Forbes column that this sort of thing happens all the time, whether it’s “positioning” certain facts or getting a third party involved.

He strikes back against those in the industry and others who have been “quite vocal in their disgust,” writing:

What they, along with many in the media are advocating is the firm should have simply walked away from Facebook.

Please. Spare me your righteous indignation. Most any agency going today would throw just about any of its employees under the bus for a client like Facebook.

That sentiment has been floating around on Twitter as well.

Andy Eklund, a former employee who worked with the firm for more than a decade says on his blog, “I can say without reservation that 99.99% of its employees – then and now – are ethical, decent and hard-working professionals.”

And Andrew Worob supposes that “most PR agencies would’ve accepted an assignment from Facebook.” He’s taking a poll on his blog to find out.

Let’s say all of this is true — there are good people working at Burson, a lot of publicists try to plant negative stories for clients, and most firms would jump at the chance to work with Facebook. The industry should still be frustrated and angry that this happened and should still express their disapproval of these tactics over again until agencies don’t engage in this kind of activity. Why? Because this kind of story is being published repeatedly in top-tier publications like The Economist.

As these stories continue to run, the reputation of the PR industry and the value of good work that’s being done — stories that are important or fun or reveal some interesting news about the world, or work that is just beneficial to clients — will be diminished or disregarded. Often publicists tell me that trust is important for their clients. It’s also important for PR firms. And a lot of people don’t trust publicists. Agencies don’t want their work thought of as one more “trick” that publicists pull from their bags to dupe reporters and consumers.

Mashable has a few stats today showing that neither Google or Facebook are experiencing long-term effects. People questioned PR and its motives before, and now they still do. Perhaps even more knowing that a firm can win a top industry award and then get reeled into this sort of scandal in the same week.