05.14.11

The PR Firm Facebook Hired to Smear Google

PR giant Burson-Marsteller is under fire after Facebook hired them to smear Google—but the firm is no stranger to controversy. From nuclear-reactor makers to dictators, see who else BM has worked for.

In a story broken by The Daily Beast, one of the world's most powerful global public relations and communications firms, Burson-Marsteller, came under fire recently after conducting a covert, anti-Google smear campaign on behalf of Facebook. But the company is no stranger to controversy. From Argentinian juntas to post-9/11 Saudis, Marlow Stern on Burson-Marsteller's less savory clients.

On Thursday, The Daily Beast's Dan Lyons reported that social-networking giant Facebook covertly hired the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller to conduct an anti-Google smear campaign on their behalf. Google developed a social network called Social Circle to compete with Facebook, which, according to Lyons, "lets people with Gmail accounts see information not only about their friends but also about the friends of their friends, which Google calls 'secondary connections.'" Burson then reached out to an influential blogger to write a Google-slamming op-ed, which they promised to place in outlets like The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, with the pitch that 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." The blogger balked at the offer, posted the email offers online, and the rest, shall we say, is damage-control history.

Gallery: Burson-Marsteller's Client List

And history, as it happens, is something Burson-Marsteller has plenty of. On its website, the global PR firm states, "Clients often engage Burson-Marsteller when the stakes are high." And some of those clients have been of the less savory variety. (Burson-Marsteller did not respond to repeated requests for comment.) The Daily Beast presents a few of its customers—from corporations to dictators—whose image problems were helped by BM.

Marlow Stern works for The Daily Beast and is a masters degree recipient from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has served in the editorial dept. of Blender Magazine, as an editor at Amplifier Magazine, and, since 2007, editor of Manhattan Movie Magazine.