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May 12, 2011

PRDaily: PRSA Chair/CEO Weighs In on Burson-Marsteller Ethics Flap

In an op-ed published May 12, 2011, in Ragan's PRDaily, PRSA Chair and CEO Rosanna M. Fiske, APR, commented on the ethical lapses by public relations firm Burson-Marsteller (B-M) on behalf of a then-secret client in an attempted smear campaign against Google. She noted that, "Under the PRSA Code of Ethics, B-M would be obligated to reveal its client and to disclose the client’s intentions, which appear to amount to an attack upon Google’s practices."

Fiske continued: "An infraction upon one of our own has an impact on how we’re perceived as individuals, how public relations agencies and major companies are perceived as corporate citizens, and how the profession as a whole is perceived."

PRSA Chair/CEO Weighs In on Burson-Marsteller Ethics Flap
By Rosanna M. Fiske, APR
Ragan's PRDaily
Published: May 12, 2011

After reading USA Today’s expose on an alleged “whisper campaign” waged by Burson-Marsteller (B-M) on behalf of an unnamed client, I said to myself, “Oh, no, say it isn’t so.”

In case you missed it, B-M staffers—led by CNBC ex-anchor Jim Goldman and former political columnist John Mercurio—apparently engaged reporters and bloggers about the Gmail feature Social Circle, claiming a variety of privacy concerns about Google products and services that the company wasn’t disclosing to users.

In an email to former FTC researcher and blogger Christopher Soghoian, Mercurio solicited Soghoian’s interest in writing an op-ed along those lines, which Mercurio even offered to ghost write. At the same time, Goldman was pitching the story to USA Today.

Seemingly unbeknownst to Mercurio and Goldman, however, Soghoian posted online the full text of his email exchange with Mercurio—including asking, “Who’s paying for this [campaign]?” and Mercurio’s response that he “can’t disclose my client yet.”

After seeing Soghoian’s post and fact-checking Goldman’s pitch (finding large portions of it factually incorrect), the public relations firm became the story.

If true, that story is unflattering. Articles in USA Today and PRNewser portray B-M as trying to shield the identity of its client and as circulating misleading, if not false, information.

Read the rest of the op-ed here.

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