An Ethics Reminder | Post Updated

May 11, 2011

by Dan Ward

As one of the world’s largest public relations firms, it’s no surprise that Burson-Marsteller is making national news. But the latest stories are ones the firm likely wishes were never written.

I won’t re-hash all the details (you can read them here), but the short story is that senior Burson staffers were pushing for op-eds opposing Google’s Social Circle feature, and were doing so on behalf of an “unnamed” client … since revealed to be a small social media company you might have heard of … Facebook.

Normally, I would complain about The Daily Beast’s characterization of the “PR flacks” involved in this story, but in this case the term fits.

The public bashing that Burson is now taking is a good reminder for all of us in the communications field … transparency is essential.

-If you’re pitching a story and someone asks who you’re representing, tell them (they shouldn’t have to ask).

-If a client or employer asks you to engage in a campaign on their behalf without revealing their involvement, say  no.

-If the client or employer insists that you engage in such a covert campaign, say goodbye.

Several years ago, I had a client who suggested that we form a “front group” to lead a campaign on an issue important to them. My answer was not only no, but “#@!! no.” I advised the client about the PRSA Code of Ethics, and that if they engaged in such a campaign against our recommendation I would be forced to resign the account.

I went on to explain that my refusal was not based just on the Code or my firm’s credibility. My refusal was based on the credibility my client would have lost in engaging in such a campaign, which in today’s world of the citizen journalist would most assuredly become public at some point. The client took my advice, remained a client for many years and remains a friend to this day.

Violating the Code of Ethics on behalf of a client does a disservice to that client.  How do you think Facebook is being viewed today?


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