When the whole thing with Facebook and Burston-Marsteller went down, I confess I was a bit confused. As a social media/communications professional I have worked “in and around” PR but not at an agency and I make no claims whatsoever of being a PR pro. I could have sworn, though, from my capacity as both PR-esque professional and an avid watcher of Mad Men and other fictional accounts of the PR and advertising industries, that smear campaigns were just something PR agencies did. I mean, maybe they don’t advertise it, per se, but seriously–political campaigns? What are they other than smear campaigns? Or full-page ads in the Washington Post or other news papers that somberly report how awful the other guy or industry is…tastefully brought to you by the X corporation or industry. Isn’t that PR? Or is that advertising and totally separate from PR?
To PR pros, undoubtedly there is a huge difference and a professional ethics code and the line between advertising and PR is crystal clear. To me, though, and the rest of the world who are not PR pros, it’s all one and the same and the indignant claims on behalf of the PR industry as a whole that they would NEVER do ANYTHING like Burston-Marstellar did had me wondering to myself “really?” But not wanting to push it because I didn’t want to sound like a moron.
So I was thrilled to read first Jeremy Pepper’s post then the Forbes post both saying that I’m not crazy and that smear campaigns do indeed exist. And also for pointing out my main thought about this whole thing–Facebook is dripping in money. What firm in their right mind would turn Facebook away as a client?
I’m not saying that every PR pro has been or ever would be involved in such campaigns–and good on them. But for those pros to indignantly proclaim that stuff like the Facebook/Google whisper campaign never happens? And people are ignorant for even thinking it? Well apparently, I and others like me who wondered about this are indeed not ignorant or crazy–stuff like this DOES happen in the PR industry, PRSA ethics code or not.
And–sidebar–I also didn’t know that John Mercurio was part of this whole thing. I went to high school with him and he rocks. How small world is that? I had no idea I actually knew a person involved with this whole drama.