Earlier this month, the Daily Beast broke the news that Facebook had hired a powerhouse PR agency to plant negative stories about Google in the press. The agency, Burson-Marstellar, deployed two of its big guns for the campaign: Former CNBC tech reporter Jim Goldman and former Hotline executive editor John Mercurio. In one e-mail, Mercurio offered to help write and place an op-ed if the recipient, blogger Chris Soghoian, would lend his name to it. The savvy Soghoian asked who was bankrolling the campaign, and when Mercurio declined to say, Soghoian made the e-mails public.
What makes this incident interesting is that on one hand, Mercurio did many things right. He used a descriptive subject line: “Op-Ed Opportunity: Google Quietly Launches Sweeping Violation of User Privacy.” His first sentence succinctly and directly summarized the ask. He provided a list of talking points, each supported by a link to an independent sources. And his offer was tantalizing: Who in Washington wouldn’t want a byline in the Washington Post?