I kept asking when the elephants were gonna arrive and the tents were gonna raise, cause it was kind of a circus. ~ John McCormick
I reflect on this quote as news broke earlier this month that Facebook secretly hired public relations firm Burson-Marsteller to plant a smear campaign against Google, and the fiasco continued in true circus-like fashion including a race to see who could shoot the other from the smoking cannon first. While this media spectacle between Burson and Facebook lacks the typical acrobats, trained animals or magicians, it leads me to wonder – is this a three-ring circus?!
Like many others in the communications industry, I often find myself having to clear up misconceptions of the true definition of public relations. Often, PR practitioners and other media professionals are labeled “spin masters,” much like magicians, with the power to manifest greatness out of anything – like pulling a rabbit out of a hat.
When thinking about why even the most well-intentioned clients approach marketing agencies, it is often to see what “tricks” we have up your sleeves to help them achieve their desired results. The conversation may go, “You’re in PR? How would you put your spin on XYZ to get it into the news? XYZ is just so great, and EVERYONE will love it!”
Don’t get me wrong. This is exactly the magic of good public relations – to communicate a company’s messaging to the public and watch out-of-this-world results that may transpire is the goal, but only if done so truthfully, ethically and fairly. The public expects information they read from reporters to remain objective and free of bias. When Burson was caught attempting to plant negative stories about Google in such unethical, deceptive and manipulative manners – even to go as far as to offer to write the story for the bloggers – it is only natural for the public to unfairly credit media professionals and big businesses as sneaky puppet masters. As these stories continue to run, the reputation of the PR industry and the value of good work that’s being done (like here at M/C/C) will be diminished or disregarded.
Unless you’re a cute six-year-old child sitting with your parents at the Barnum and Bailey Circus, magic usually implies illusion, deception or trickery – all of which are characteristics that should not apply to any company’s public relations strategy. At the end of the day, wouldn’t an agency much rather be recognized for providing objective, credible sources of information that provide actual service and value to the public?
You see, there is no trick to good public relations. It takes consistency, hard work and a little flair – leave the magic wands, smoke and mirrors and trickery at home, Houdini. Yes, you, Burson.
AND FOR MY NEXT TRICK: MAKING ALL OF THE WORK ON MY DESK DISAPPEAR! *POOF!*