{Rules of PR no.20} Spoiling the Spoils of Public Relations

"Rose" iPhone via Geek & Hype

 Eddie: PR. I PR things. People. Places. Concepts…

In public relations, we all know what astroturfing is – but it is up to us whether we partake in it or not.

This weekend, I was tweeted by a fellow PR pro about an iTunes scandal involving a top technology public relations firm and the methods they chose to use to successfully “PR” their clients. In a nutshell, Reverb Communications was ousted by Tech Crunch over the weekend, for hiring interns to infiltrate the iTunes “reviews” and forums, posing as legitimate consumers to jack up the rating of the their clients.

In my world, a world of ethics, truth and getting to the top because of your skill not your stealth – this form of public relations is disgusting. And again, I’m left moderately speechless that there hasn’t been a whole bunch of hullabaloo in the public relations world about this.

This is a big deal people.

Image via WeHeartIt.

Astroturfing is:-

  • unethical
  • a risk to the client
  • harmful to consumers
  • hurtful to the person/agency that participates

Astroturfing is wrong … no matter how someone tries to justify it.

Astroturfing is when an advertising, marketing or public relations organization, person, political party or brand orchestrates the manipulation of data by “the audience.” In simple terms, this is propaganda. Is it where a few people give the impression to the masses that there are many, many, many enthusiasts and believers in their cause, brand, organization etc. It doesn’t always have to be positive, a lot of times astroturfing has been utilized by the opposition in political campaigns. 99 percent of the time it’s pretty much viral and falls under what we, in the industry call, “stealth marketing.”

Bottom line: it’s crap.

And while, we’re on the subject – this is what we call “S-P-I-N.” It’s “spinning the truth,” and NO this is NOT what public relations is all about.

Forgive me, but since I was 18-years old and started my PR degree at the University of Florida, to now that I’ve graduated (’07) and am working in the “real world,” I’m sick and tired of defending my profession.

Public relations is not “spinning,” propaganda is “spinning.”

Propaganda is one-way, asymmetrical communication that doesn’t offer any engagement and is telling you what to think.

Public relations is two-way, symmetrical communication that engages it’s audiences and gains perspective in order to help a brand, person or entity reach their intended “audience.” It’s about the love – it’s about the relationships … it’s called “public” and “relations.”

Think about that.

image via the BBC. "Absolutely Fabulous"

We are not the ladies from AB FAB

Saffie: I’m sorry, mum, but I’ve never seen what it is that you actually do.
Eddie: PRrr.
Saffie: Yes, but…
Eddie: PR. I PR things. People. Places. Concepts…
Patsy: …Lulu.
Eddie: Lulu… I make the fabulous… I make the crap into credible. I make the dull into…
Patsy: …Delicious.

So I’ll say it, since it seems no one else wants too, except Tech Crunch, Reverb Communications isn’t a public relations company.

When your client services offer things that say:-

Reverb employs a small team of interns who are focused on managing online message boards, writing influential game reviews, and keeping a gauge on the online communities. Reverb uses the interns as a sounding board to understand the new mediums where consumers are learning about products, hearing about hot new games and listen to the thoughts of our targeted audience. Reverb will use these interns on Developer Y products to post game reviews (written by Reverb staff members) ensuring the majority of the reviews will have the key messaging and talking points developed by the Reverb PR/marketing team.
Internal User Reviews Process:

o Internal “User Reviews”
o Pre-written by in house writers
o Positive reviews – not over the top – but endorsing the game as a good product
o Age ranges
+ 12 – 18
+ 19 – 25
+ 26 – 34
+ 35 – 45
+ 46+
* Written from the angle of each age group including key words that resonate with each audience
* Reviews begin to go live on day of launch on the iPhone storefront
o Release reviews starting at launch as stretch over 14 days from release

…that’s not public relations, it’s astroturfing.


Little Pink Book’s Rule of PR #20:
Astroturfing is wrong.
It’s shameful and you shouldn’t do it.



Sasha Muradali runs the ‘Little Pink Book’ . She holds a B.S. in Public Relations from the University of Florida (’07) and an M.A. in International Administration from the University of Miami(’08). She loves Twitter and all things social media, so you should find her @SashaHalima.

Copyright © 2009 SashaH. Muradali. All Rights Reserved.