The Public Relations industry – which everyone loves to hate – has this week elevated itself to mass media whipping more so than usual, Including by USA Today and a slew of others
Burson-Marsteller, one of the largest PR firms in the world has been widely condemned over the last few days for working anonymously on behalf of Facebook in approaching media representatives to “run news stories and editorials about how an obscure Google Gmail feature ostensibly tramples the privacy of millions of Americans and violates federal fair trade rules.” Universally, the PR Agency has been slammed for not disclosing that their anti-Google campaign was on behalf of Facebook.
While I’d like to stay directly out of this fray, some thoughts to consider:
- Don’t doctors make media appearances or statements and not disclose which industries or companies are paying them? Don’t real estate brokers represent interests who aren’t fully disclosed to all parties regularly? There is often a case – and in fact a need – for companies to work without full disclosure. Where does full disclosure begin and acceptable secrecy end?
- Do all clients want people to know they hired a PR agency to push their point of view? Certain companies prefer people think that journalists organically discovered their stories rather than them paying for Public Relations to push forth their interests. Are there cases where stories “planted” are deemed more valuable if seemingly not placed there by a PR firm?
- If PR people disclose all details, is there a concern with increased subpoenas to PR representatives ? PR agencies and PR representatives need to be fully aware of situations to deal with the media, yet may have to reveal all which has been told to them in a court of law – They aren’t immune to subpoenas as attorneys are.
- Facebook is a privately owned company. How many companies exist, which are covered in the media daily, where we don’t know who the owners are, or how much the owners earn? Should all owners of private companies have to be revealed?
- Speeches and blogs are ghost-written – Is that OK? Why don’t journalists release for which they vote, or their nonprofit donations for causes they support? How many front groups exist?
- In the new media world of blogging, so much of what is on blogs is nothing more than biased rants, self-righteous indignation, or one-sided research from routinely anonymous followers. One person can even post comments en masse from various sources, further deceiving readers into thinking that a fake multitude of people agree with their argument.
One of the challenges in the PR Industry is the lack of leadership amongst industry trade organizations – and frankly their lack of organization, importance or ability to lead. PRSA was quick to condemn Burson-Marsteller here, yet in the same Op-Ed, the President of PRSA states “only 14 of B-M’s 2,200 global employees are PRSA members” – that’s less than .05 percent.
This isn’t an easy discussion – There are many alternative viewpoints, questions and factors to consider. I, for one, don’t believe its as black and white as we have been led to believe. I welcome your thoughts and feedback.