May 13th, 2011

Bloomberg coverage of Burson Marsteller/FB shenanigans

Paul Kedrowsky was sensible: kinda unimpressed, figures we "want to be scandalized" because FB is "virginal", but notes that FB is "tone deaf".

The followup included Nicholas Thompson talking about slimy and "three layers of irony. The other guy (not sure about his name) didn't seem to want to use BM's name. Thompson recalled BM being hired by Microsoft to do exactly the same thing and adds "they are acting in an evil way and they are not particularly skilled at acting in that evil way". It was unclear to me (and I listened to it three times) who precisely he meant by "they" (FB, BM, puppet masters who control us all from a distance, etc.).

Thompson has all the information to understand the issue: BM does this crap all the time and they are really blatant about it. But he isn't taking it to the next step: hey, it's getting a _lot_ harder to get away with this stuff now. And everyone is unwilling to name BM in the coverage, preferring to focus on FB.

I don't get it. Is there some kind of deal in place where news organizations have been muzzled by PR firms? (<-- That's me feigning naivety. Of _course_ there's a deal in place. Duh. The question is whether the same approach to avoiding unwanted publicity -- money and quid pro quo -- from broadcast and cable media has any chance at all with the petri dish that is blog journalism.) It should be obvious that when FB hires BM to try to get Google into trouble by ratting them out on privacy issues, FB is _not_ determining the precise tactics used by BM to accomplish this task. I'm pretty sure the folks at FB are smart enough that if they had known in advance what BM was going to do and how they were going to do it, they wouldn't have hired BM. That, in fact, is where tech companies like FB (and Microsoft before them) _are_ virginal. They still believe that someone out there has some kind of magic get-away-with-it social touch and are willing to pay money to purchase this supposed skill/art/magic.

How wrong they are.

BM and client transparency

Lyons' work on BM and the failed whisper campaign continues over at The Daily Beast:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-05-13/facebook-and-pr-agency-spar-over-anti-google-smear-campaign/

There's a link in there to BM's press release, which states in part:

"The client requested that its name be withheld ...this was not at all standard operating procedure and is against our policies, and the assignment on those terms should have been declined. When talking to the media, we need to adhere to strict standards of transparency about clients, and this incident underscores the absolute importance of that principle."

Here's PRSA:

http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/CodeEnglish/index.html

Which says in part:

"Reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented."

and as an example of Improper Conduct: "A member implements "grass roots" campaigns or letter-writing campaigns to legislators on behalf of undisclosed interest groups."

BM does _precisely_ that _all the fucking time_. The fact that BM felt a need to qualify "transparency about clients" to "when talking to the media" (after all, it's okay to lie to everyone else, as long as the media is In On It?) tells you more than anyone really needs to know about who the bad guy is in the room.

Here's the translation for anyone having difficulty following the shorthand that is the inside of my head:

A PR company, Burson Marsteller, was hired by Facebook. Facebook wanted Google's Social whatever to attract some media attention, you know, to share the wealth of media attention to privacy concerns that FB enjoys. BM tried to convince USA Today and some bloggers to place stories about a "problem" with google's service (a completely fictional problem, as it turns out, itself an example of Improper Conduct according to PRSA). USA Today and others declined (because of the fictional aspect). Lyons decided to find out who hired BM to do this. He succeeded and FB confirmed it. Only then did BM admit they were hired by FB and at that point, BM decided to blame FB for the resulting embarrassments. (Makes you wonder who puts together the damage control campaigns for BM.)

BM's campaign was hamhanded -- but their campaigns usually are. They're a lot like my compulsively and conveniently untruthful sister that way. People dumb enough to continue as Jehovah's Witnesses after how many rounds of failed predictions about the End of the World? believe stories told by my sister, but ordinary folk tend to see right through that crap. Similarly, BM's campaigns (Smokers' Rights!) are quite obviously bullshit. But BM is used to a deal where Philip Morris doesn't say, yeah, we hired them to do that and we probably shouldn't have and we didn't really expect them to do _precisely_ what they wound up doing. BM is used to a deal where everyone spends interminable time skirmishing in discovery and then a sealed settlement before trial or FOR SURE before a conviction.

I'm betting the partners at BM are in some sort of state of shock at the idea that FB would be that brazenly _honest_ about the whole thing once the shit hit. It must feel the same way the bankers on Wall Street feel when, say, Microsoft decides to do a deal to buy Skype for $8 billion plus -- and not involve any bankers. I mean, that's just not the way we do things around here! Who do they think they _are_ anyway?! Normally, BM and company would threaten to blackball FB and could reasonably expect them to toe the line. Not this time. I don't see FB hiring any of the Old Skool PR firms after this. We Won't Work For You Ever Again! Wait, what do you mean you won't ever hire us again. What?

Rajaratnam, Wiretapping Timeline and a Quick Question

I've been mostly ignoring the Galleon trial because I figured it would only matter if they got a conviction, and I could always catch up after. Well, now I'm trying to catch up. And I have a question.

Was it the Bush DOJ that got the wire tap warrants? Really? Was this one of those things where they were trying to get someone for contributing to Democratic campaigns/causes and over time it sort of turned into something very, very different?