This blog tracks the newsworthiness of the practice of public relations and we hit a new plateau yesterday when Byron Acohido and Jon Swartz of USA Today reported on a pitch they had received from Burson Marstellar intent on discrediting Google.
Burson last week stepped up a whisper campaign to get top-tier media outlets, including USA TODAY, to run news stories and editorials about how an obscureGoogle Gmail feature —Social Circle— ostensibly tramples the privacy of millions of Americans and violates federal fair trade rules.
Former business technology journalist Jim Goldman was outed as the pitcher as well. This kind of thing has surfaced before, usually when reporting on PR attempts to help companies rebound from scandal, but this story really did hit a new height for being comprehensive, carefully researched and behind the curtain.
In a May 3 e-mail to former FTC researcher and blogger Christopher Soghoian, Burson's Mercurio offered to ghost write an op-ed column to that effect for Soghoian. Mercurio even offered in a widely circulated e-mail to help Soghoian get it published inThe Washington Post, Politico, The Hill, Roll Call and The Huffington Post.
We're in a media environment now when everything PR people do needs to be transparent because even this relatively common practice is now considered news that can discredit the very idea it is meant to advance.