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December 9, 2009
Burson-Marstellar Fires Back, Scores

 Burson-Marstellar's prompt, detailed response to a reckless story in The Hill web journal indicates how far we are from a measured dialogue on anything having to do with persons connected with politics in the U.S. This can be a fateful road for the country, for a democracy requires accurate communication. 

The Hill story made it appear that Burson-Marstellar received close to a $6 million diversion of federal stimulus funds because it's headed by Mark Penn, who did polling for Hillary Clinton in her run for the Democratic presidential nomination.  

Actually, the Burson-Marstellar statement explains, the money was in connection with a contract from the Federal Communication Commission for an advertising campaign to promote public awareness of the national switch last June to digital television. Burson-Marstellar says it learned of the "request for proposal" through the Fedbizopps.gov website and was awarded the contract in a competitive bidding process. Only $4.36 million of the $6 million was needed and used for the work. Most of the money went for media buys to advise the public, especially senior citizens, minorities and "hard-pressed communities" of the pending , congressionally mandated switch in TV broadcasting. 

In other words, the FCC project was finished on time and under budget. Burson-Marstellar received $1,375,000 in fees to manage a complex, time-sensitive advertising campaign. The firm's statement lists 27 cooperating firms, including Mark Penn's polling company, Penn Schoen Berland, and the amounts they received. It adds that Penn, Burson-Marstellar CEO, "was not involved in any aspect of this assignment, from the procurement through execution."

If a firm with political clients during a campaign season can't pursue normal marketplace functioning afterwards, without being berated by opposition politicians (GOP in this case)  and media, we're in a sorry state. This flap appears to be another example of how our national communication climate is under contentious duress. Attempting to discredit federal spending based on contrived appearances is poisonous.

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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