AIG retained only one full-time p.r. firm when it ruled the insurance world. Today's four firms, said Ashooh, have different missions: Sard Verbinnen & Co. helps to structure statements on the bailout, Kekst & Co. focuses on sales of assets to pay back federal loans, Burson-Marsteller handles controversial issues and Hill & Knowlton fields inquiries from Capitol Hill and prepares congressional testimony for company officials. "If the criticism was we were running image-advertising or doing sponsorships to make ourselves look better, I could see that," Ashooh said. "But we're doing a lot of information-processing. It's really been just responding to inquiries" from Congress and the media.
Criticism of AIG's hiring of PR firms just won't die. Rachel Maddow and Breakingviews recently took critical looks at the company's agency roster given its federal funding. This time, it comes in the form of an article from Time: "Is AIG spending too much on public relations?" The author points to recent comments from members of Congress that question "the firm's p.r. payroll," as well as a lawyer of former AIG chairman Hank Greenberg. AIG's SVP of comms, Nick Ashooh - who made PRWeek's people with the "toughest jobs in PR" 2008 list - broke down the responsibilities of its PR firms to Time.