In case you missed it, yesterday Eli Lake of The Daily Beastenlisted a former Russian Federation employee and author who specialized in media relations to explain why all the money the Kremlin spent on reputation advice was a waste.
While Lake vaguely insinuates unflattering things about Ketchum, his source Angus Roxburgh’s main conclusion is that Vladimir Putin does whatever the hell Vladimir Putin wants to do, no matter what his foreign and domestic advisors tell him.
Roxburgh (who was never employed by Ketchum) is something of a Putin expert.
Again, his point isn’t that Ketchum or any other firm gives bad advice about improving Russia’s image or encourages Putin to do unethical things—it’s that Putin ignores whatever guidance he receives. For evidence, look no further than the reporting of state media outlet RT (Russia Today) on the crisis in Ukraine. Surely you saw video of reporter Liz Wahl quitting on air due to ethical concerns:
To further support his thesis, Roxburgh claims that his team would often prepare statements for reports and schedule press conferences, only to find that RT had already beaten them to the punch.
Ketchum reps have repeatedly stated that they do not advise the Kremlin on policy—and a spokesperson reiterated that point to Lake. Roxburgh doesn’t disagree, noting that his aim as a media relations specialist was to:
“…teach the Russians about how the Western media operate and try to persuade them to adopt the best practices of government press relations.”
He goes a step further, however, claiming that these very responsibilities implicitly included:
“…helping them disguise all the issues that make it unattractive: human rights, invasions of neighboring countries, etc.”
Yet he offers no specifics.
In summary, then, Ketchum’s (supposed) media relations advice was frequently ignored by its own client, who will face an even greater challenge in attempting to rehabilitate his country’s image in the West after its effective invasion of Ukraine.
A truism applies here: one can offer all the advice in the world to a client, but one cannot compel that client to behave in a certain way.
Surely Putin knew that his decision to act against Ukraine and spin the events via state-sponsored outlets would damage whatever goodwill Russia may have earned during the Olympics.
He has only one person to blame for that.
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