Gini Dietrich

Gin and Topics: Wag the Dog

By: Gini Dietrich | May 13, 2011 | 

If you’re in the PR industry, you’ve certainly already heard about Facebook hiring Burson Marsteller to create a smear campaign against Google. But this is an important story to follow for everyone in the business world.

The gist of it is…earlier this week, USA Today reported that former CNBC tech reporter, Jim Goldman, was caught spreading lies about Google on behalf of an unnamed client.

Speculation grew and people assumed the client was Microsoft or Apple.

Well, it came out yesterday the client was, in fact, Facebook.

I’m not sure how that conversation goes when Facebook calls BM, but it’s something I’m thinking a lot about and will write about it next week. After all, Spin Sucks.

In the meantime, today’s Gin and Topics focuses on this issue. I encourage you to read the stories so you’re educated on what can go on when the tail wags the dog.

5. BUSTED. This was the first story I read when it was reported two former high-profile reporters were working at BM on behalf of an unnamed client to spread lies about Google.

4. Emails Released. This is a copy and paste of the email exchange between the blogger who asked the right questions and Jim Goldman.

3. It Was Facebook. And then Business Insider released an update. It was not Microsoft or Apple. It was Facebook.

2. Facebook Busted. Another story, but more in-depth, about why Facebook is striking out at Google and what it means for the three companies involved.

1. Smear Tactics: Great for BBQ, But PR? Not So Much. Matt LaCasse writes a guest post for Shonali Burke on this issue. He makes a great point, as it relates to sports, of how the foul is always called not on the initial offender, but on the person who strikes back.

Look for comments about this here next week. I’m still trying to figure out how that conversation goes and what amount of money makes you decide it’s worth the risk. I just don’t understand it.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • TheJackB

    If I was a conspiracy theorist I’d say that one or both of them are behind the Twitter problems this morning.

    In regard to your post, well Google and FB really are like the 800 pound gorilla who can sleep wherever it wants to. It is going to take a lot more than this to really hurt them. In large part that is because the public has a short memory and unless you can demonstrate how/why something hurts them they will ignore it.

  • DHLasker

    Yesterday after the details of this campaign were released, opinions began to form very quickly about how this was clearly a bad move for Facebook. Agreed, Facebook crossed a line that most people would not cross, and that many people find repulsive.

    These actions beg the question, now what? Will this actually hurt Facebook in any way? Will this hurt Google in any way? Will you stop using Facebook? Will you stop using Google? How is this approach any different than the negative approach used by many political candidates during their campaigning?

    Bad PR can certainly blemish a company’s reputation. BP knows this all too well. In this case however, look at the tremendous attention that both Facebook and Google are receiving. Both companies offer unique products and services that are unavailable elsewhere. Regardless of motive, right/wrong, and intentions, I believe that the added communication (water cooler talk, blogging, tweeting, etc.) about both companies is ultimately a win-win for both, based on all of the exposure they are receiving. For example, the ABC produced program, NYPD Blue (aired a number of years ago) received a plethora of negative publicity due to content (language and nudity–full backside nudity) not necessarily appropriate for television during its time. It became a game changer when that very publicity grabbed the attention of the curious. Viewership subsequently increased significantly!

    The real loser in this mess appears to be the PR firm who was thrown under the bus by its very own client. And, for agreeing to pursue the campaign. With the current economic conditions, I can also understand (not condone) the difficulty in making the decision to turn down work.

  • ginidietrich

    @TheJackB I agree with you. The issue I have is that there are PR professionals, really high-level, experienced pros, who continue to work this way. There are so many of us who are working diligently to change the perception of our industry and then something like this happens. How does that conversation go? We’d really like to get media talking about Google in a negative way…can you help? How much money do you think it takes?

  • ginidietrich

    @DHLasker I agree it’s not going to hurt Facebook. And most of the general public won’t even hear about this. But, as a PR professional who manages things ethically, I can’t understand how you agree to do this. It’s just bad business.

  • timsoulo

    Well… what can I say… sit back, relax, take that Gin and watch two giants slapping each other 🙂

  • ginidietrich

    @timsoulo The best part of your comment is “take that gin.”

  • mdbarber

    It’s interesting how much of the focus is on what Facebook did wrong when Burson-Marsteller either agreed to do this for Facebook when FB asked, or concocted the scheme and sold it to Facebook. It is really incredible to think that B-M management allowed this to happen, or just didn’t know. It seems that B-M has an opportunity here (well, maybe it’s already been too long) to take a higher road and discuss how their team lapsed from what they all know is the ethical practice of public relations. They could use this as a teaching moment for their employees, for the profession and for the broader community.

    Instead, they have now publicly said they aren’t firing the two masterminds of this project and, in my opinion, just seem to be waiting for it to blow over. There has been no apology from B-M to other professionals who are swept into this “PR sucks” wormhole with them. And, in fact, today it was released that they have also deleted B-M Facebook posts placed there by others including links to the news stories.

    I guess maybe they are slow learners? I hope it’s not the rest of us who are slow on this!

  • “Same thing we do every night, Pinky …. “

  • ginidietrich

    @mdbarber I’m trying to figure out how that conversation goes:

    FB: We’d like you to work with the media on what is public information about Google and, oh BTW, don’t mention our names.

    BM: We can call our friends in the media and ask them to begin working this story. That will be $6MM.

    I’m with you, Mary. It is an opportunity to take a leadership position for their employees and for the industry. I just re-read their statement and it’s not really even an apology. I don’t get it.

  • ginidietrich

    @wabbitoid Can’t the good guys ever get to Global Domination?

  • mdbarber

    @ginidietrich I completely agree Gini. I’ve worked with several agencies, including a multi-national. In the majority of cases, the client comes to the agency with a problem. Together they look at the problem and the agency recommends solutions. In the other scenario, the client says they have a problem and this is the solution we want. Either way, B-M had the opportunity to say — no, that’s not how we work. Either way…the responsibility lies with B-M. At this point, they both seem like they deserve each other. Neither has apologized. Neither has really said they shouldn’t have done it. B-M is supposed to be the grandaddy of the industry and really should be leading. It’s incredibly shameful. I’m with you…I just don’t get it.

  • UnlockTheDoor

    Gini, I’d first off like to apologise for not visiting SpinSucks sooner. The idea has been in the back of my mind for some time, and many people talked about how great you are and the awesome impact you’ve had on the blogging world. I reckon you were probably the most-talked about blogger that I hadn’t visited yet 😉

    Now that’s cleared up, I want to say that you have a fantastic site. Really, you do, there’s a lot of quality gems here, and some of them I recognise as ‘the posts that people have talked about”, such as the debate over censorship of yours and Danny’s session title at BlogWorld, the Follow Friday series, and the general talk about social media and why ‘spin’, does indeed ‘suck’. So well done to you Gini, and the team at Arment Dietrich Inc. You are all striving for a higher cause.

    And now, onto this post. I have a strange fascination in seeing ‘big dogs’ duke it out over something, anything. It’s like when two heavyweight boxers clash, or when two huge sporting teams collide. It’s exciting to see the results. Here, with the guys at Facebook apparently being ‘naughty’, it’ll be interesting to see how Google react, as well as how the media decides to run it. Whichever way you look at it, it’s going to be…intriguing.

    Take care Gini! It’s a pleasure, a privilege, and an honour to be here 🙂

  • ginidietrich

    @UnlockTheDoor Well, welcome! If you come back during the week you’ll find the crazy community here that is, well, crazy, and tons of fun! And how very nice of you to say all of these things!

    I’m with you…I’m obsessed over the big dogs duking it out. You’re likely right about it being like sporting teams collide. I’m writing a blog post about it right now so come back tomorrow!

  • ginidietrich

    @mdbarber I just spent four days at Counselors Academy and it was interesting there wasn’t much talk about this…even when I raised it. It’s a bigger discussion, I think, about the leaders of PR firms and their interest (or lack of) in raising the bar in our industry. No one really seemed to care about it, except to shake their heads.

  • mdbarber

    That makes me sad @ginidietrich . But I’ve noticed a similar trend as well among agency folks. They seem to be placing the blame with Facebook and not B-M. I just don’t see that. If one assumes that Facebook asked B-M to do it, they still have an obligation to say no, that’s not how we operate. Of course, we still don’t know if that’s what happened, or if B-M recommended the strategy to Facebook. Either way is bad, but the second is horrendous.

    There’s nothing on the Council of PR Firms site and I haven’t seen anything from them at all. Do you think counselors are hoping it just goes away?

    Pretty proud of the active and aggressive stand PRSA has taken on this issue and can assume they’ve taken some hits for it too. Did anyone talk about PRSA’s stand at Counselors’?

  • DanCristo

    Google and Facebook are two of the most fascinating brands out there. Doesn’t matter if you love them or hate them, just about everyone at least interested in what they’re up to. And here we’ve got Facebook, who is known for their lack of privacy issues, accusing Google of unethical privacy infringements. But they didn’t just blatantly accuse them, they hired a respectable PR agency to run a secret smear campaign. This sounds like a good fiction read to me. Sadly it’s reality.

  • ginidietrich

    @DanCristo Sadly, is right. Sigh…

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