In case you missed it (or are missing it as it happening now) Ketchum is taking a lot of heat for pitching (or writing–depending on who you talk to) an op-ed piece from Russian President Putin on Syria. Here’s a snippet from the op-ed in which the Russian president presumes to suggest that American intervention is causing the world to perceive we rely on brute force and have given up our democratic principles:
“It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”
I’m not going to discuss the merits of the comments supposedly written by the Russian President himself–who is no doubt loved around the world for his rejection of brute force and his fierce support of democratic principles.
Ketchum has earned $23 million in fees over the past few years by serving the Russian government. They have been very successful in writing and pitching op-ed pieces for this client in many publications. This should be a coup (so to speak) for them in getting this kind of placement in the New York Times at this time of national and international debate on this subject.
The controversy already surrounding this op-ed and Ketchum’s role in it is going to stimulate much debate. One issue is globalization vs. national loyalty. This issue arises in all kinds of economics venues, but now we have in public affairs. Many of the leading PR firms are global, some with non-US ownership. Of course, many leading companies are owned by people from all over the world. Does national loyalty and concern for the nation’s interest come into play in making decisions like this–or is this “just business.”
I love the PR industry and deeply believe in the value that it offers clients and society as a whole when done properly. That is with professionalism, competence and integrity. But this one hurts. And I think it is going to hurt all of us in this business, not just Ketchum. Money talks, no doubt. The Russians are paying mightily and it looks like they are getting good service. But it is going to look very much like to the greater percentage of red-blooded Americans that whoever is running Ketchum cares a whole lot more about Russian rubles than American scruples. No doubt one of the biggest challenges to integrity in our business is the fact that we are usually paid to say what we do. That means our words are often suspect with the question underlying it: what would you be saying if this company (or country) weren’t paying you?
I hate the term flacks. It suggests that PR folks will advocate for anyone and say anything as long as their money is good. There is too much truth in the claim. But now Ketchum has given a great many people who may not love our profession as much as I do reason to think we are all a bunch of flacks. Ketchum, I’m disappointed.