Microsoft hiring Burson Marsteller for a dirty tricks campaign against Google is just the tip of a very ugly iceberg in which PRs suck up to their clients, are terrified of losing their jobs, and who are blamed for everything or anything that goes wrong.
On the other hand, when they are told by their client they have to actually meet journalists, that's when the real hypocrisy begins. They are very friendly, but believe you me we are not their friends. They are forced to talk to journalists - heck that's their job - and sometimes they find it as unpleasant as having to talk to their clients.
Because clients are as unreasonable as most journalists, by and large. They produce little widgets and expect their PRs to get a front page splash on the Financial Times. If the miserable PR manages to get any mention in said paper, the client will see it and rip the coverage to pieces, forgetting in the process that a journo is not a tool of the PR - or at least we hope not.
Did you know that part of the job an agency has to do is to profile the hacks so that the execs have got a clue about what the person's like? About 12 years ago I went to interview suits at the late but not very much lamented Zenith PCs - and chanced upon a briefing document Bite PR left hanging around. My profile wasn't too bad, but some of my other colleagues got a right old slating.
Here's another odd thing I've noticed when a PR is present when a hack interviews an exec. The PR often frantically scribbles away, as if she or he was writing everything down. I once asked a PR afterwards what the heck there was to write. He said that he just wanted his client to feel re-assured and actually he was preparing his shopping for the weekend and his holiday plans.
Basically, PRs live in a regime governed by fear. Basically, it's the fear that a hack will write something that will make his or her boss scream and throw his yo-yos out of the pram.
We can imagine what happened when Burson Marsteller was told by Big Boss at Microsoft to go out and canvass people to complain about Google buying Doubleclick. Burson M might have tried to advise against it, saying if the news gets out it will make Microsoft look sleazier than it already looks. Or the guys at Burson M might have just fallen over on their backs without a murmur. Now the cack has hit the fan, they'll probably get another good kicking from the Vole because the primary function of a PR is not only to be a flack, but to take the flak when the client is too frit to accept the blame. µ
* DISCLOSURE How do I know any of the above is true? I was a PR for a year in 1976. My clients included Marshall Amps, the 18 to 30 Club, and others. I didn't last long in that trade or profession.
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