Burson-Marsteller Has Another Image Problem

Oh, look: the globe-bestriding publicity firm Burson-Marsteller has yet another project for yet another client. The Daily Beast reported :

Somebody, it seems, hired Burson-Marsteller, a top public-relations firm, to pitch anti-Google stories to newspapers, urging them to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy. Burson even offered to help an influential blogger write a Google-bashing op-ed, which it promised it could place in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, and The Huffington Post.


The stories of Google’s privacy invasion, the Daily Beast wrote, were being pushed on behalf of Facebook. Maybe that led to yesterday’s scary-sounding—but confusing—

Gawker post

about a “creepy” and “pretty evil” effort by Google to compete with Facebook by “quietly mining your Gmail contacts database.” (Gawker cited a


Business Insider story

about Google’s quest for a “social graph” of its own.)

Quietly! The Google Social Circle does sound pretty invasive, at first. But unlike the dread Google Buzz—or Facebook’s entire turn-a-private-network-into-an-opt-out-data-mine business plan—it doesn’t really seem to know anything about you unless you’ve created a Google Profile and agreed to let Google examine your various social accounts. (And why would you do that? Have you learned nothing from the Facebook experience?


Unclick every checkbox

in sight.)

The Daily Beast:

Burson, in its pitch to journalists, claimed Social Circle was “designed to scrape private data and build deeply personal dossiers on millions of users—in a direct and flagrant violation of [Google’s] agreement with the FTC.”

Also from Burson: “The American people must be made aware of the now immediate intrusions into their deeply personal lives Google is cataloging and broadcasting every minute of every day—without their permission.”

Yes, the American people must be made aware of Google’s alleged intrusions into their personal lives because Facebook wants to keep the lucrative privacy-violation market to itself.

Is that the story that Mark Zuckerberg was paying Burson-Marsteller to promote? Because that’s the story Facebook has ended up buying: the story that Facebook is the sort of deceitful scumbag hypocrite company that would hire Burson for its dirty work.


What’s the advantage to hiring Burson anymore? The CEO, Mark Penn, is “best known as the chief strategist in Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign,” the Daily Beast wrote. Here’s a little refresher on how that went, as

reported by Time magazine


As aides looked over the campaign calendar, chief strategist Mark Penn confidently predicted that an early win in California would put her over the top because she would pick up all the state’s 370 delegates. It sounded smart, but as every high school civics student now knows, Penn was wrong: Democrats, unlike the Republicans, apportion their delegates according to vote totals, rather than allowing any state to award them winner-take-all. Sitting nearby, veteran Democratic insider Harold M. Ickes, who had helped write those rules, was horrified — and let Penn know it. “How can it possibly be,” Ickes asked, “that the much vaunted chief strategist doesn’t understand proportional allocation?”


In the end, though, it wasn’t Penn’s incompetence that got him demoted by the campaign—it was his toxic and unethical

entanglement with Burson clients

, including “drug companies, a tuna industry group, a tobacco firm and the controversial military contractor Blackwater USA,” and finally the government of Colombia, which had hired Burson to push a free-trade deal that Hillary Clinton opposed.


So Facebook was willing to hire a company whose CEO is identified with hilariously bungling tactical failure. And it was willing to join a list of

clients and causes

that has included, through the decades, Blackwater, the Union Carbide mass methyl isocyanate-gas* poisoning in Bhopal, the murderous Argentine junta, and Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Those last two, a


Burson spokesperson has pointed out

, predate Mark Penn’s time (as does Bhopal), so it is inaccurate and unfair to—

Oh, wait: Foxconn, the Chinese tech supply company where the

workers were killing themselves

last year. Another Burson client.

How will Facebook scrub the stink off itself now? How will Burson-Marsteller, for that matter, get people to stop thinking of poison, corruption, failure, and death when its name comes up? If only there were some sort of company out there that knew how to fix a damaged reputation.

[* Correction: This sentence originally misidentified the toxic gas involved as chlorine.]