Noted blogger/podcaster Shel Holtz has a good post on the latest mess by a PR agency (and client) not being totally transparent about their relationship or agenda. This case involves Burson Marsteller creating an instant organization on behalf of Microsoft – ostensibly to lobby for online freedom and competition – but failing to acknowlege the obvious link. To make matters worse, the folks at BM also aggressively pitched their case to incredulous journalists. Another black eye for PR firms.
As Holtz writes, it’s amazing that companies still use these dubious (and outdated) tactics even though they go squarely against the “no BS” ethos of the Web – where candor and transparency are the price of entry – and the Web is littered with examples of agencies burned by similar scandals. But the lesson here goes beyond PR campaigns, and the miscue does not have to be an egregious cover-up. I’ve seen several examples recently, for example, where corporate campaigns aimed at employees were met with yawns and snickers. Despite plenty of planning and expense, these well crafted messages and materials were essentially dead on arrival. Why? Because they were seen as paint-by-numbers pabulum – neither relevant, forthright or personal. Most people – whether on the Web or in companies – are looking for authenticity and for value. They also want to be a part of deciding what kind of information they receive, and how they get it. Anything that seems artificial, generic or misleading will be challenged or ignored. The sooner PR practicioners learn this lesson the better.