Headhunter weighs in on Facebook smear campaign flap

Finger-wagging seemed to be the most popular reaction to the Burson-Marsteller Facebook v. Google front-page news from P.R. pros.

"Let me be clear: B-M's actions on behalf of Facebook were unethical and improper," said Keith Trivitt, associated director of P.R. at the Public Relations Association of America.

"You have sullied the profession," writes another on the Burson-Marsteller corporate Facebook page.

Derision was just narrowly the second most popular reaction. The B-M Facebook page also contained these two quotes:

"Whoopsie-daisy. Looks like you may need to hire a reputable P.R. firm to clean up this mess."

"Note that Burson-Marsteller staff pretend to be PR experts! I can't image worse PR than they have generated for their OWN company!"

But not all are taking that tone. Some are saying they are less naive about the realities of the industry.

“The reality is that if you’ve worked in a public affairs or corporate issues/reputation PR practice, then more than likely, you or one of your colleagues has participated in something similar at one time or another," wrote Aaron Perlut on Forbes' MarketShare blog.

“It's a joke. No, not that B-M undertook such a campaign (or how badly it was handled) but the hyperbole from the press that borders on Foghorn Leghorn declaring the 'shock, I say shock, of the PR game' that they are intimately involved,” wrote Jeremy Pepper on his blog.

From a headhunter perspective, this is just one example of why the P.R. business is endlessly fascinating, said Sandra Charet, president of Charet & Associates.

Charet agrees that Burson made definite ethical mistakes. She also points out that there is an entire spectrum of advanced public relations strategies that address how competing corporations operate. It's called “competitive intelligence,” an ethical aspect of public relations and corporate management strategy.

Press releases and events may be the comfort zone of P.R. services, but megacorporations often demand more extensive campaigns. Here is where professionals need to be prepared to draw the line and define what services they can ethically provide.

Another major issue in this snafu is that the B-M employees were journalists who had only recently transitioned to P.R. Their transition landed them right at the top of the food chain, where their lack of experience in public relations cost them and their employer.

They "should have known better," Charet said. "It's P.R. gets the rap for this story unfortunately."

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