Why all of PR will pay for ‘Whisper-Gate’

A scandal that has rocked the industry this week questions the ethics of two major players—B-M and Facebook—but sadly, the whole profession will suffer.

The “Whisper-Gate” scandal that leaked out this week involving search-engine king Google, social media maverick Facebook, and storied public relations firm Burson-Marsteller should have every PR agency reexamining its ethics policy.

Before this incident, just about any agency would have started drooling if Facebook had called up to hire it for a media campaign. It’s Facebook, after all—weeks away from a multibillion-dollar IPO and known to anyone with an Internet connection.

Then there’s B-M, the grand poobah of PR. The 2,200-employee firm solidified its place in history when it turned around Tylenol after the tampering incidents in the 1980s. It is a classic case study in crisis communication, and it’s still referenced today in university communications classes as nothing short of brilliant.

The firm’s three-paragraph statement released Thursday was painful to read. B-M acknowledged that its client for the campaign was Facebook, and that its action was “not at all standard operating procedure and is against our policies…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.”

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