Former Omnicom agency staffer questions Ketchum's Russia work

Despite paying the firm large sums of money for its PR counsel, the Russian Federation does not take Ketchum's advice, according to a former Omnicom Group employee.

Despite paying the firm large sums of money for its PR counsel, the Russian Federation does not take Ketchum’s advice, according to a former Omnicom Group employee.

Former journalist Angus Roxburgh, who worked at Omnicom PR unit g+ Europe from 2006 to 2009, told The Daily Beast that the agency has tried to improve Russia’s image for years, but President Vladimir Putin dismisses its advice.

"[Putin] does his own PR," Roxburgh said to The Daily Beast. "I can honestly think of nothing that Ketchum has ever done that has actually improved Russia's image."

He added that Ketchum’s work with Russia includes "providing press reviews, writing briefing notes for interviews and pressers, setting up foreign visits for ministers, and very occasionally getting an op-ed placed," as well as running the website ThinkRussia.com.

Ketchum told PRWeek in a statement that responsibility for the European component of its Russian Federation work is subcontracted to g+ Europe.

"In 2006, Roxburgh was hired by g+ to work on this engagement," the statement added. "He left their employment in 2009. He was not a Ketchum employee."

When it comes to how the Russian media works, Roxburgh told The Daily Beast that Ketchum is powerless to affect it, saying it is "way, way, way, above even their inflated pay grade."

For the last six months of 2013, Ketchum billed the Russian Federation nearly $1.6 million, according to the latest Foreign Agent Registration Act forms filed with the Justice Department.

At the end of last year, Roxburgh said Russia wanted Ketchum to pay newspapers for positive articles, but the agency told the country that media relations in the West do not work that way, according to a report.

Mary Dejevsky, chief editorial writer and a columnist at The Independent, said in a review of Roxburgh’s book, The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia, that he "has written quite a conventional history of Russia over the past 12 years." The book includes insights from Roxburgh and his relationships over the years while he was a journalist, author, and PR professional, Dejevksy added.

After Putin sent troops to the Crimean region of Ukraine last week to intervene in the country's political turmoil, Ketchum told PRWeek that the agency is continuing its work with the Russian Federation but not advising the country on foreign-policy matters.

"Our work continues to focus on supporting economic development and investment in the country and facilitating the relationship between representatives of the Russian Federation and the western media," said a Ketchum spokesperson, in a statement. "We are not advising the Russian Federation on foreign policy, including the current situation in Ukraine."

Protests in Ukraine began last fall when President Viktor Yanukovych formed a tighter political bond with Moscow and backed away from integration with the European Union. Riots worsened in recent months, leaving dozens of people dead. At the end of last month, Yanukovych fled Kiev for Kharkiv, a pro-Russian stronghold near the border of the two countries.

Tensions continued to rise between the US and Russia this week after Putin rejected a proposal from US Secretary of State John Kerry to help solve its dispute with Ukraine.

Ketchum began working with the Russian Federation in 2006 when it was hired to provide PR counsel and media relations support to the presidential press office as the country prepared to host the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg, the firm added in a statement.

In 2007, the agency also worked on a two-month project to promote energy security, foreign investment in Russia, and the country's bid to join the World Trade Organization. The contract was worth $847,000.

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