Facebook's UK agency 'knew nothing' of Burson-Marsteller smear campaign

A senior partner at Facebook's UK agency Blue Rubicon said that his agency was not aware of Burson-Marsteller's smear campaign, and that BM's activity represented 'a line we're not prepared to cross'.

Smear: Facebook's UK agency Blue Rubicon 'knew nothing'
Smear: Facebook's UK agency Blue Rubicon 'knew nothing'

Facebook has admitted that it was using Burson-Marsteller to help it to place negative stories about the web search company Google in the US.

Facebook hired Burson to place stories that questioned Google’s privacy policy.

Facebook uses the services of Blue Rubicon in the UK. Responding to the news, Blue Rubicon senior partner Fraser Hardie told PRWeek: 'We didn't know anything about it. It's not the sort of work we do for Facebook. It's not something we'd advise them to do either. It appears to be only in the US - there's no evidence of it in the UK.

'Our view is we're completely transparent who we work for. We believe that's the right way to work. There's a line between advocacy and smearing and that's a line we're not prepared to cross.'

However, Speed Communications MD Steve Earl wrote on his blog this morning: ‘What PRs need to admit, rather than getting all high and mighty about the Burson-Marsteller incident, is that smearing is an integral part of PR.’

Earl wrote: ‘You don’t work hard to further your clients’ reputations without looking at those of their competitors. You do work on statements, comments, and all forms of content that seek to position clients clearly, aggressively and often cheekily versus the competition. If bad things happen to the competition, you will often endeavour to ensure people find out. That’s business.’

Earl added that B-M’s only mistake was ‘doing it in an amateur and clumsy way without sufficient thought of how it would be unearthed and perceived'.

B-M approached US tech blogger Christopher Soghoian, urging him to investigate Google’s privacy policy, offering to help him get the piece published on influential sites such as The Huffington Post.

In a statement, B-M said the work was not ‘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.’

Google declined to comment on the story. B-M’s UK CEO Matt Carter was not available for comment.

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