The Burson-Marsteller/Facebook PR Fiasco

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As New York talk show host Don Imus always says when someone does something really stupid, “It just doesn’t get any better than this.” Today, I am referring to one of the great PR blunders of all time—I mean top 10 here, at least. Specifically, the work that Burson-Marsteller tried to do for their pals at Facebook. Man, the smoke must still be coming out of Harold Burson’s ears. What were they ever thinking about? Not only does B-M’s strategy involve posting negative stories – a questionable and unsavory PR approach to begin with—they actually tried to proposition 3rd parties like bloggers, journalists, and opinion leaders into criticizing Google’s privacy issues. And, they recruited two former journalists to do the dirty work. Brilliant.

All was going swimmingly until a blogger, Chris Soghoian, objected to being used and made everything public. To this I can only say, “Thank you Chris.”

And to Burson-Marsteller let me say, you’ve given PR a black mark that will be hard to erase. While the vast majority of PR practitioners are honorable and ethical people, you’ve managed to make an entire industry look sinister, deceptive, even evil… Shame on you.

But, B-M is going to pay the consequences. Today, Facebook fired them. Worse, they have a public persona that will stay with them for a long time. How current clients feel and what actions they may take remains to be seen. But B-M will pay for their misdeeds in fact and, worse, in perception. Nice work guys.