June 6, 2011 by Dan Patton
While bungling a recent job for Facebook, public relations firm Burson-Marsteller got caught trying to secretly trash Google. In the aftermath, the company sustained a black eye that, ironically, may provide its salvation. Now, Burson can beg pardon by insisting that they are not so much evil as they are stupid, and the flimsy values of the American cyberscape might make forgiveness possible.
Let’s examine the offense. Acting on behalf of Burson-Marsteller, seasoned journalists urged the media to report about Google’s scheme to ripoff consumers by using “private and identifiable information” from Facebook, Myspace, Twitter “and many others.” They insinuated a threat to individual liberties and used words like “zealous,” “infringing” and “dossier.”
In truth, Google gathered nothing more than the harmless fodder people put out there on purpose: vacation photos, favored restaurants, rsvp’s to “National Punch A Hipster Day.” Essentially, Burson mongered fake fear.
To some, this is business as usual. “If you’ve worked in a public affairs or corporate issues/reputation PR practice,” observes blogger and communications entrepreneur Aaron Perlut, ”you or one of your colleagues has participated in something similar.” Generally, PR firms even acknowledge who’s paying to sound the alarm.
But Burson wasn’t naming any names, and that’s where the badmouthing backfired. Within days, Blogger Chris Soghoian went public with the company’s request that he talk trash about Google and Slate magazine writer Jack Shafer called the campaign “a grand act of stupidity.”
Evil, perhaps. Stupid, maybe. But still nothing compared to what the real movers and shakers are up to.
Few organizations on earth do a better job of trashing ideas, institutions and people than the US Government and the businesses attached to it. Fueled by media pundits, corporate cash, private donations and electoral delusions, they distort and smear like drunken pedophiles on career day.
Consider the case of Amy Myers, a high school sophomore from New Jersey who posted an open letter challenging Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann to a debate on the Constitution.
“I have found quite a few of your statements regarding the Constitution of the United States... to be factually incorrect,” she notes before declaring: “I, Amy Myers, do hereby challenge Representative Michele Bachmann to a Public Forum Debate and/or Fact Test on The Constitution of the United States.”
Representative Bachmann did not respond. Commenters on Tea Party websites did the job for her, issuing ideological, obscene and violent threats against sixteen year-old Amy Myers, her family and her school. “People are calling her a (female anatomy part), a left-wing commie, a slut and a whore. They say they hope she gets gang-raped,” said her father.
According to analyst Hadley Reynolds, “When companies get big enough and grow really quickly... you start to get these rather bizarre political marketing ploys.” Although she was speaking about Burson-Marsteller to PC World, the logic seems to fit political upstarts as well.
There is, however, one notable exception: “Social media,” she continues, “exposes these shenanigans.” In other words, the market ensures that companies like Burson and Facebook will learn to behave. But thanks to the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” Decision, we’ll never know who pays for the Tea Party trash.