NEW YORK: Burson-Marsteller has confirmed it is no longer working with Facebook to promote the company's position against Google's social media venture Social Circle.
The separation follows a day where both companies fell under intense media scrutiny after it was revealed the agency was not disclosing it was hired by the popular social networking site to plant negative stories about Google's service.
Burson-Marsteller representatives including former CNBC tech correspondent Jim Goldman and former political journalist John Mercurio pitched bloggers and opinion formers the idea of writing anti-Google think pieces that the PR agency would subsequently place in high-profile media outlets. But blogger Chris Soghoian blew the whistle on the strategy when he published the email pitch and his rejection of it, which questioned who Burson was working for.
Both Facebook and Burson-Marsteller admitted in statements that the strategy was misguided and should not have been undertaken.
According to a statement released by Facebook:
"No 'smear' campaign was authorized or intended. Instead, we wanted third parties to verify that people did not approve of the collection and use of information from their accounts on Facebook and other services for inclusion in Google Social Circle—just as Facebook did not approve of use or collection for this purpose. We engaged Burson-Marsteller to focus attention on this issue, using publicly available information that could be independently verified by any media organization or analyst. The issues are serious and we should have presented them in a serious and transparent way.”
Besides noting that Burson-Marsteller and Facebook are no longer working together, the agency declined to comment and instead deferred to the following statement:
"Now that Facebook has come forward, we can confirm that we undertook an assignment for that client.
The client requested that its name be withheld on the grounds that it was merely asking to bring publicly available information to light and such information could then be independently and easily replicated by any media. Any information brought to media attention raised fair questions, was in the public domain, and was in any event for the media to verify through independent sources.
Whatever the rationale, this was not at all 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."