In my previous post I referenced Phil Gomes‘ view on why he doesn’t feel the need to rush to the defence of the PR profession. I also referenced Andy Lark‘s thoughts on transparency. When I was writing the post, I didn’t think the two would come together quite as quickly as they have. Let me explain.
Two incidents I read about this morning brought both issues into focus.
News that Burson-Marsteller’s astroturfing on behalf of the bromine industry has been called out by the Center for Media and Democracy isn’t a surprise to anyone. These ridiclous industry-backed “think tanks” staffed by PR flacks (I hate that term, but it’s appropriate in this context) bring this business and profession into disrepute. This isn’t about communication ladies and gentlemen, this is about subterfurge and at best grey propoganda.
I won’t speak on behalf of others, but it says nothing to me about Public Relations, as I practice and understand it. Furthermore, as a consumer, I find it distasteful and dishonest. Unfortunately no one cares. As long as there’s money to be made, there will be organizations and individuals interested in grabbing it regardless of the consequences. This is where I begin to agree with Phil’s thoughts. There is no blood on my hands so to speak, I am happy to criticize these practices, but I also accept that my criticism will do nothing to change the practice.
The problem with Andy’s PROTS idea is that you’ll find the only people willing to sign up will be the people who have nothing to hide. Those operating in the murky underworld will stay there, happily counting the unmarked bills that are passed their way (I’m imagining the retainer being handed over in a dark car park).
So deception is reality to destroy an old PR adage.
But deception happens in many ways. Another incident I read today served to show just how stupid some marketing and PR people are in trying to create these deceptions.
If you’re planning some online marketing programs there’s something you should be aware of. It’s really quite easy to track your identity. It’s important to know that, particularly if you’re planning some really “clever” viral marketing ploy. Ah yes, following some fantastic ground coffee and a nice danish pastry, you came up with a great viral campaign for your client.
“Let’s pretend we’re students, then we can target bloggers and get a whole viral marketing thing going.”
“What a great and unique idea! Let’s do it!”
One word: Stop.
Stop before you do more damage than good. In the first place what you are suggesting is unethical – and if I’m expected to call unethical practice in PR, I’ll do the same for the rest of the marketing function. Your mediocre attempts at hiding your real identity will, in all probability, fail. The result of your actions will be, best-case, that you make your organization look like buffoons and worst-case you do serious damage to your client and your employer’s reputation.
Unfortunately this post is too late for the big brains over at Ogilvy. Oh yes. Following the well beaten track of “students” who are actually married, overweight marketers, Ogilvy have kicked out a blog outreach campaign posing as students. I kid you not. And what brand you may ask is all this sneaking around designed to promote? Why American Express obviously. Obviously.
What a stupid stunt…. oh the vagaries of rhyming slang.
Bjoern Ognibeni, a freelance marketing consultant in Germany, was the recipient of one of these incredibly intelligent pitches. Unfortunately for the clever agency folks, Bjoern was able to track their IP address all the way back to their danish pastry filled modern offices.
Read the post, heed the lesson.
I’m off for a danish.