Microsoft campaign puts Burson on the defensive

WASHINGTON: Burson-Marsteller defended itself against critics this week amid reports that it didn't properly disclose a relationship with Microsoft.

WASHINGTON: Burson-Marsteller defended itself against critics this week amid reports that it didn't properly disclose a relationship with Microsoft.

The firm was behind a campaign touting the risks associated with Google's planned acquisition of online advertising broker DoubleClick.

Microsoft first hired the firm last year to work on a campaign called the Initiative for Competitive Online Marketplace (iCOMP), a forum at http://i-comp.org for Internet companies, consumer groups, advertisers, and regulators to discuss e-commerce issues, said Josh Gottheimer, EVP at Burson.

It pitched the forum to 100-plus companies, mostly Europe-based, he said. About 30 have signed on.

This week, The Wall Street Journal reported that an executive at UK-based insurer Esure got an e-mail from a Burson director asking for support regarding competition in the Web-search market that did not name Microsoft. Esure did not respond to inquires by press time.

Gottheimer declined to discuss the WSJ piece, but said firm staffers were instructed to disclose Microsoft as a member organization.

The site urges users to sign a petition opposing consolidation in the online sector, notably Google's planned acquisition. "Not everyone who joins the forum necessarily agrees on how to achieve [the site's stated] principles," he said.

Guy Esnouf, a Microsoft spokesperson, said via e-mail that the company has been open about its concerns over market concentration, consumer privacy, and copyright protection as a result of the possible Google-DoubleClick merger.

"We wholeheartedly support this initiative," he added.

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