MSNBC vs. AIG’s Public Relations Agencies

If you didn’t catch it, last week MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow tore a strip off AIG for having a “list” of PR firms on its roster. As Maddow put it, “We’re paying the bill for PR firms to spin us?”

Here’s the clip:

As juicy as this clip is, I do feel the need to point out a few things about the AIG rant:

  1. Even if AIG is now largely government-sponsored, it is still in business. For the company to remain that way, it needs to attract customers. Public relations, along with a long list of other business functions, needs to feed into that.
  2. Public relations firms do more (much more) than just “spin” people. I expect the company’s new owners (Americans) might like to know about changes being made to bring the company out of its predicament. Guess what? That’s PR’s job.
  3. It’s unlikely (although possible) that AIG’s “list” of firms is doubling-up. Maddow’s melodramatic reaction makes it seem as though AIG is paying several firms to do the same work. It’s much more likely that they each have their designated areas on which to focus.

It’s not surprising that people react this way to AIG’s activities. Reputation is built on trust. When, on repeated occasions, you accept public money (over $150bn to date) then send employees on expensive getaways, your trust is shot. At this point, no-one trusts anything that AIG does.

What do you think about this, and how would you respond if you were AIG?

(Maddow also mentions PR agency Burson-Marsteller, reeling-off a laundry list of some of the agency’s clients and saying “When evil needs public relations, evil has Burson Marsteller on speed dial.” Disclosure: Burson-Marsteller is the parent company of National Public Relations, a competitor to my employer Thornley Fallis. We’re also starting to work with an insurance company that I can’t name yet – however, its products don’t compete with AIG in Canada)

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.