Yesterday, PR Week and The Holmes Report told us of that one of the world’s largest PR firms plans to distance itself from its most controversial client.
Both pubs reported that Ketchum’s global remit for Russia would expire and that the firm would officially end its nine-year relationship with Vladimir Putin’s government in the US and Europe.
There is, however, a major catch: fellow Omnicom property GPlus will “[continue] to operate under the terms of the contract” moving forward.
The firm’s move very closely resembles Edelman’s February decision to “end” its partnership with the American Petroleum Institute by spinning off Blue Advertising (the entity that did most of the work promoting the group’s policy goals) from the larger comms organization.
As we know, Ketchum encountered blowback after a BuzzFeed query revealed that it had placed a 2013 New York Times op-ed in which Putin attempted to deflect blame from embattled ally Bashar al-Assad of Syria. That negative attention only intensified after Russia intervened aggressively in Ukraine. (At the time, the firm had to release statements distancing itself from Putin’s foreign policy.)
In both cases, the problematic clients will still be served in the same way by many of the same people — but both Ketchum and Edelman can now claim that they are no longer associated with the parties under contract (despite the fact that both clients will continue to pay for services). From Holmes:
“Ketchum’s Moscow operation, led by Michael Maslov, has close links to some of Putin’s top advisors, and will continue its work for the Russian Government.”
So very little will change, operationally speaking.
A key difference between the cases: fees for Ketchum’s work, which focused primarily on promoting Russia to international investors, have been greatly affected by sanctions against Putin’s government and the ruble’s subsequent decline. Though gas prices in the United States have dropped in recent months, the fossil fuels industry will not cease to dominate the international economy anytime soon.
These moves provide two perfect examples of why the public at large distrusts the PR industry.
UPDATE: Ketchum clarifies that it does not own GPlus:
Ketchum no longer represents the Russian Federation in the U.S. or Europe with the exception of our office in Moscow. Our partner in the consortium, GPlus, continues to operate under the terms of the contract. GPlus is a fellow Omnicom agency but it is not a Ketchum subsidiary nor is it owned by Ketchum.
This statement does not alter the underlying story.