Ketchum Reacts to Williams Flap

BOSTON Omnicom Group’s Ketchum Public Relations today responded to media criticism surrounding its apparent reluctance to take responsibility for commentator Armstrong Williams’ lack of disclosure that he was paid by a Ketchum client, the U.S. Department of Education, to tout the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind act.

“Ketchum is committed to adhering to industry guidelines and to high ethical standards in every aspect of its business practices,” the New York-based agency said in a statement. “Ketchum has its own code of business ethics, which includes a commitment to present our clients’ products, services, or positions truthfully and accurately. Every new Ketchum colleague is asked to sign this code upon joining the firm.”

Last Friday, Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell ordered investigations of potential violations of the federal payola and sponsorship laws. One of those investigations will focus on Williams [Adweek Online, Jan. 14]. Williams received $240,000 to support the administration’s program.

Ketchum goes on to say “in working with the Department of Education to create advertising for its No Child Left Behind act, Ketchum contracted with the Graham Williams Group. Long before he entered a contract with us, Mr. Armstrong Williams, principal of this advertising/public relations agency and also a commentator, was an advocate for the No Child Left Behind program, which he strongly supported during a number of television appearances. … We should have recognized the potential issues in working with a communications firm operated by a commentator.

“As a result, this work did not comply with the guidelines of our agency and our industry,” the statement continues. “Under those guidelines, it is clear that we should have encouraged greater disclosure. There was a lapse of judgment in this situation. We regret that this has occurred.”

The agency said it has initiated several procedures to help prevent a similar situation from happening again, including a new policy for the signing and authorization of contracts with spokespeople. The firm is also developing a “process” by which the firm deals with subcontracts.

The statement concludes, “While our review of the situation is still underway, we wanted to let you know where it stands at the moment and reiterate that we would never encourage this type of behavior. We certainly are not pleased by this turn of events and are committed to working with the government and our industry in addressing this situation.”