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Burson-Marsteller and Facebook: A Public Relations Ethics Case Study


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An in-depth look into the smear campaign developed by Burson-Marsteller and Facebook against tech giant Google.

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Burson-Marsteller and Facebook: A Public Relations Ethics Case Study

  1. 1. BURSON-MARSTELLER& FACEBOOK:A CAUTIONARY TALEBy: Alexandria Chong, Nailah McKesey, NicoleTroelstrup, Greg Wilson & Ni Zeng
  2. 2. Agenda1. Background Information2. Two Tech Giants Compared3. Case Description and Responses4. Evidence5. Ethics Comparison6. Our Verdict7. Q&A
  4. 4. Burson-Marsteller Founded in 1953 by Harold Burson and William "Bill" Marsteller One of the “Top 5 PR Firms” Operating in 67 wholly owned offices and 71 affiliate offices 98 countries across 6 continents Owned by WPP – Wire and Plastic Products
  5. 5. What are they about? "We have a clear vision: To provide gold standard performance - for our clients, our people and our shareowners - as one seamless, global business with a single culture.“
  6. 6. Google Founded in 1995 at Stanford University by Larry Page and Sergey Brin Top used search engine Named after “Googol” - a term defined as the number 1 followed by 100 zeros representing “a nod to the company’s vast goal of organizing all of the internet’s data” “Don’t Be Evil” – mantra explaining their relationships and view of competitors
  7. 7. What are they about? "Dont Be Evil" Originally stated by two Google employees Buchheit and Patel
  8. 8. Facebook Founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg Top used social networking service In September 2012, had over one billion active users In a study in December 2011, Facebook is the 2nd most accessed website in the US Users create a personal profile, add other users as friends, exchange messages
  9. 9. What are they about? "Facebooks mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”
  10. 10. The Two Tech Giants Compared Facebook Google Facebook has risen to  Dominates search become the second- advertising: 65% of U.S. most important online market and more than property, behind Google. 50% of the global market Undermines Google’s  Reaction to Facebook: communication tools. Launches Google+ Could jeopardize Google  A $40 billion company by developing its own built on innovation and search capabilities execution in advertising
  11. 11. WHAT HAPPENED?
  12. 12. The Smear Campaign1. Burson-Marsteller aims at getting newspapers to run stories about how Social Circle infringes on privacy and violates FTC rules2. Spearheaded by B-M’s Jim Goldman and former political columnist John Mercurio on behalf of an unnamed client3. Goldman and Mercurio began engaging reporters and technologists4. Mercurio offered to help a blogger…5. And the blogger turned the tables, posting Mercurio’s embarrassing email pitch online6. A few days later, USA Today broke the story
  13. 13. Google’s Response "We have seen this email reportedly sent by a representative of the PR firm Burson-Marsteller.Were not going to comment further. Our focus is on delighting people with great products.”
  14. 14. Burson-Marsteller’s Response“Whatever the rationale, this was not at all standardoperating procedure and is against our policies,and the assignment on those terms should havebeen declined. When talking to the media, we needto adhere to strict standards of transparency aboutclients, and this incident underscores the absoluteimportance of that principle.”
  15. 15. Facebook’s Response"No smear campaign was authorized or intended.Instead, we wanted third parties to verify that peopledid not approve of the collection and use ofinformation from their accounts on Facebook andother services for inclusion in Google SocialCircles—just as Facebook did not approve of use orcollection for this purpose"
  18. 18. Facebook vs. Industry StandardsLeading Tech Companies Honesty and CompetitionFacebook “Facebook personnel must always abide by laws related to competition... including predatory conduct intended to exclude a competitor from a market"Linked In "LinkedIn employees are expected to act and perform their duties ethically, honestly and with integrity - doing the right thing even when "no one is looking."Google "We respect our competitors and want to compete with them fairly. But we don’t want their confidential information. The same goes for confidential information belonging to any Googler’s former employers.”
  19. 19. Burson-Marsteller vs. Industry StandardsPublic Relations Codes Honesty and TransparencyBurson-Marsteller We will not undertake work which is intended or designed to mislead, including in relation to social, environmental and human rights issuesArthur W. Paige Society Tell the truthPRSA We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public
  21. 21. The Charges…1. Facebook and B-M launched a smear campaign: a campaign aimed at damaging someones reputation by making accusations and/or spreading rumors.2. The smear campaign included false and inaccurate information.3. The campaign was used to gain a competitive advantage.
  22. 22. The Verdict…On the whole:Unethical and Not Very SmartPRSA CEO/Chair Weighs In:
  23. 23. Q&A Thanks for listening!