The backlash against Burson-Marsteller’s botched media campaign for Facebook continues today with commenters piling on negative responses (in a variety of languages) on the firm’s Facebook page. Appropriate.
Comments not only express acrimony over the effort against Google, but also about news reported on Wired.com that a negative comment posted on Burson’s Facebook page had been deleted. According to a spokesperson who talked with Wired, the post will be put back and the page has received “a lot of profanity.”
The question now is how long the backlash will continue and who it will impact. Burson is an award-winning firm with lots of top international clients (including some controversial clients). But this episode has really angered a lot of people, including many in PR, largely because of how it reflects on the entire industry.
“Certainly, the actions of B-M do not conform to any reasonable definition of public relations ethics and only serve to perpetuate negative perceptions of our industry as a whole. The real losers in the battle: everyone,” reads a post on Cone’s blog Brand Channeler.
“It will become another public relations case study that unfortunately will reinforce clients’ and the public’s skepticism about the profession. Other professions have scandals, such as self-regulated or poorly monitored aspects of financial services like Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, insider trading and hedge funds’ lack of transparency, to name a few,” Robert Noltenmeier, clinical assistant professor of PR and corp comms at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies told us via email.
“PR has many credible codes of ethics, but they’re not now enforceable like the ones in law and medicine, where professionals can be barred from practicing. Even some on Wall Street are barred from trading and advising. If that’s what it takes to address a few outliers, which all professions have, PR leaders will do it.”
So far the news is that both Jim Goldman and John Mercurio will continue with Burson. And the PRSA eliminated enforcement of its rules in 2000. According to PRSA chair Rosanna Fiske, only 14 of Burson’s 2,200 staffers around the world are members of the organization.
WebProNews offers some suggestions on how Burson can repair any damage to its reputation (along with a link to a critical blog post from the firm’s former U.K. CEO) among them, coming clean and communicating with everyone and anyone who wants to talk about the issues tied to this situation. Like those who are commenting on Facebook.
It’s likely that the firm will rebound from this episode, if, for no other reason, than many clients aren’t surprised by this sort of thing from PR firms and continue to hire them. But the industry must remain diligent about these ethical issues. This isn’t just something to be angry about now. Being transparent and maintaining ethical standards in publicity work is something everyone should be pressing for every day and address far into the future.
(Interesting update: Just watched an interview between Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP’s chief exec, on Fox Business’ Cavuto. You can check it out here.)