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Putin and Ketchum: From Russia with PR
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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President Obama has an Office of Communications. Presidents of companies have PR firms. It's like that in the real world...well, in the American one. In Russia, that may be different because the global PR firm Ketchum has represented Vladimir Putin, Russian President, for those of you scoring at home, since 2006. The agency's slogan is "Break Through," and with the ballyhoo it has created this week, I would say the clutter in the media is about the only thing broken through. Now everyone is talking about Ketchum. 

Broken by BuzzFeed
, Ketchum penned and placed a somewhat vitriolic op-ed in the New York Times by said Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. (Thanks Ketchum. I've always wanted Alex Trebek to ask me about his middle initial. As if Putin wasn't enough.) The op-ed was about Syria, Russia's ability to talk the chemical weapons away from [Syrian President and psychotic fool] Assad, and our country's ability to play "Big Brother" and just bomb said fool back to the Neolithic era.

I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations. If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.

The op-ed, in which Putin calls out American "exceptionalism" referenced by President Barack Obama in his speech on Syria Tuesday — riled the White House. Speaker Boehner was "offended" by this. And Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it made him "want to vomit." Nice, and an American PR firm was behind. Odd thing is that this is not Ketchum's first time in the news for pissing off an entire nation. 

According to ProPublica
 (and BusinessInsider.com, from whence this information hails), "Ketchum has a contract with Russia that, among other things, outlines a plan to promote Russia "as a place favorable for foreign investments." From 2006 to 2012, Ketchum was paid almost $23 million in fees and expenses on its Russia account, as well as $17 million on an account for Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled energy giant. In the first six months of 2013, it was paid $1.9 million on its Russia account and $3.7 million on the Gazprom account."

For a firm that has been so intrinsically involved with Putin, you would think the op-ed was written by them, which is largely the popular thought. Of course, the spin is that Putin wrote most of the "basic content" but "his assistants fleshed out the text." Nice to know. However, this brings up a point of morality and ethics: If you had a client that wanted to put your country on blast, would you represent the client? If you were an alcoholic, would you represent Miller Lite? If you were a God-fearing PR professional, care to represent the Church of Satan? Now consider timing...it was 9/11 and this op-ed comes out. If you were a person full of nationalism, and your client who runs a country that your country has spent a great deal not really enjoying its vibe, wanted to post an op-ed full of angst in your country's most noteworthy paper...would you do it? 

Ketchum did. Regardless if they wrote it or not, was it right to even pitch it? 

For those newbies not in the know, PR professionals are not known as the most happy-go-lucky and credible around. Nonetheless, this is just not cool. It goes against the grain, or is the price of gas that important? You see, money has this ability to make people forget their scruples, their self-values, their ethics. But must money make you lose your mind as well? Not unless we have a breakthrough about this profession. 

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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