'Trash talking' against rivals is common place in the industry

Facebook comes under scrutiny after negative Google stories emerge in US.

Web war: Facebook and Google
Web war: Facebook and Google

Tech PR professionals have admitted that the tactic of briefing against rivals is common in the industry, following Facebook's controversial use of Burson-Marsteller to place negative stories about Google in the US.

It emerged last week that Facebook hired B-M in the US to place stories that questioned Google's privacy policy. Facebook wanted to attack Google's new Social Circle service which, it claims, will feature information from users' accounts.

Many PROs said similar tactics were used across the industry, but Daljit Bhurji, MD of Diffusion, pointed out: 'There is a distinction between openly highlighting genuine concerns about a competitor based on fact, and spreading misinformation using underhand tactics.'

Facebook had to come clean when a blogger, approached by Burson-Marsteller, published the email trail asking him to discredit Google.

Mark Jackson, group head, corporate at Lucre, said: 'It's easy for people to pontificate about the wrongs of this situation, but the simple reality is that a lot of companies do this. Trash talking is a huge part of the PR arsenal, but the golden rule is don't get caught.'

But Helen Nowicka, head of digital, Porter Novelli, said the Facebook brand had been unnecessarily damaged: 'The problem Facebook now faces is that its underhand approach has become the story, not anything that Google has done.

'For PR agencies, there are always challenges when it comes to following an aggressive strategy aimed directly at a close competitor. The lessons in using email pitches are clear for us all to see.'

Facebook retains Blue Rubicon in the UK. Responding to the news, Blue Rubicon senior partner Fraser Hardie told PRWeek: 'We didn't know anything about it.'

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