The Dark Side of Chinese Public Relations
Charting the future of public relations
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The Dark Side of Chinese Public Relations

Paul Holmes

When I was in China a couple of years ago, a couple of the larger firms I met with suggested that I take a look at an operation in Shanghai that was in the business of creating and then selling internet identities. Essentially, the firm hired students to build up credible identities on bulletin boards and other social media. When companies faced a crisis, they could take over these identities and co-opt their credibility to issue statements defending their behavior. The practice is clearly unethical, and probably unsustainable, because at some point someone is going to get caught—and pay a heavy price for its deception. This Forbes blog post by Gady Epstein provides an object lesson in why “black PR” is just not worth the effort, money, or reputation risk. In it, he tells the sordid tale of a Chinese dairy form (Mengniu Dairy) and a local public relations firm (BossePR) that was apparently paid to disseminate false rumors about product safety at a prominent competitor. (A particularly touchy story, after the melanine scandal a couple of years ago.) The scandal involves “using fake consumers and fake blogs to sabotage a rival and manufacture a public health scare,” and according to Esptein: “With the aid of some pliant members of the state media, these kinds of dirty tricks are still practiced and effective in China, part of the arsenal companies are prepared to use to bludgeon their competitors.” Social media have played a major part in exposing the scandal, Mengniu is frantically trying to distance itself from the dirty tricks campaign, and BossePR is coming in for some unwanted scrutiny, as are its other clients, such as Microsoft and Baidu, who run the risk of guilt by association as observers ask: “If the firm is doing this kind of thing for one client, what might it be up to for others?”
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Ethics ethics pr management
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