The Cycle

Burson-Marsteller’s alleged controversial e-mail

Last week we reported on Burson-Marsteller coming under fire amid reports that it didn’t properly disclose a relationship with Microsoft. PRWeek has since obtained the e-mail that a UK-based Burson-Marsteller director sent to Esure’s marketing director that sparked the controversy.

In an enclosed memo, the Burson director asked for Esure’s board for support on an initiative to raise awareness about the lack of fair and free competition in the Internet search market. The initiative is identified as part of “a wider industry initiative,” but Burson does not name the Microsoft as the sponsor behind the online forum, Initiative for Competitive Online Marketplace (iCOMP), and does not list the tech giant as one of its coalition members. Google’s proposed acquisition of DoubleClick is listed as one of the developments that prompted the initiative.

Adrian Webb, head of corporate communications at Esure, told PRWeek he responded by saying the company did not approve of the agency’s tactics and was uncomfortable with the copyrighted materials that were included in the e-mail.

“I was also annoyed that although BM act[s] for Microsoft and have done for years, this was mentioned nowhere with the e-mail making it appear like an independent think-tank,” he said. “As we have a good transparent relationship with Google, we felt this was poor practice.”

Josh Gottheimer, EVP at Burson said he could not confirm the authenticity of the e-mail because it did not include the agency’s disclaimer information.

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