Ecuador Gave Two U.S. Firms $6.4M to Protect Its Reputation


Here’s a quick take on news you may have missed: the country of Ecuador has a whole lot of money to spend on reputation management.

$6.4 million over 12 months, to be exact.

Documents released by the Justice Department yesterday confirmed that New York’s mcSQUARED and Washington’s Fitzgibbon Media have been partnering on lobbying work for the country since late 2013. This announcement came a couple of weeks after the conservative Washington Free Beacon effectively accused mcSQUARED of ethics violations for listing the country as a client while failing to disclose the nature of the contract to the U.S. government.

Like so many conflicts around the world, this one is all about oil.

The primary purpose of these firms’ services is to combat “the activities of multi-national organizations and corporations to diminish the reputation of Ecuador.”

Those “multi-national organizations” just happen to be the oil giant Chevron, which has been involved in a long-running feud with residents of a village in the Amazon who claim that Chevron drilled for oil on their land and then left without properly cleaning up.

Last month, a Chevron-funded “news” site ran a story criticizing Mayor Gayle McLaughlin of Richmond, California, who traveled to an anti-Chevron protest on mcSQUARED’s dime (Chevron runs a refinery in Richmond); the firm also promoted protests at a Chevron shareholders meeting in Texas, and a Businessweek story confirmed that some of the activists had been paid to attend (mcSQUARED denies involvement).

On the work itself, The Hill notes:

“…the large price tag could be because the work requires a lot of heavy lifting, including weekly strategy sessions between a “reputation and crisis team” consisting of lobbyists, consultants, diplomatic specialists and lawyers, and the Ecuadorian government. Further, at least one person will live in Ecuador to handle any immediate crisis-related needs, according to the MCSquared documents.”

The Free Beacon’s primary gripe concerned the fact that a U.S. company would work with left-wing Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, who was an ally of late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. Yet they had a very legitimate ethical point: all parties working with foreign governments are required to notify the DoJ of their activities, and the firm apparently did not do so.

While the firm told the Beacon that it did not have a working relationship with the Ecuadorian government, a spokesperson told PR Week in May that the country was, in fact, a client.

No one commented on the Hill story, which was probably a good idea.

(H/T PR Doctor Chicago)