“Now if this (Ketchum, Inc. client Vladimir Putin allegedly protecting ethnic Russians in Ukraine) sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the 30s. All the Germans that were … the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.” – Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
“Hitler makes cameo appearances all the time within American political narratives about emerging international crises. He’s an easy and recognizable shorthand that signals danger.” – Former State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley.
During the past few days, the Washington Post, CNBC and others have questioned Ketchum Public Relations representing Russia, even though the country invaded a strategic portion (e.g., Crimea) of its neighbor, Ukraine. Ketchum states its only advancing Russia’s economic development and investment goals, not foreign policy. However, a New York Times op-ed, authored by Putin and placed by Ketchum, criticized the foreign policy of the United States in the context of Syria.
When is it time for an international public relations agency to jettison a client, even one paying $55 million so far, based upon questionable at best behavior? Or does the legal tender reign supreme? Would Ketchum theoretically accept any client, telling its “economic development and investment” story, regardless of the circumstances? Does Corporate Social Responsibility apply to agencies as well? What if an international client with a difficult story to tell came to Ketchum or any other international agency…let’s say back in 1938.
Ketchum, a division of Omnicom Group Inc., would turn down the business. Right?
The scene is a large meeting room in Germany’s Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. The time is September, 1938.
Propaganda Minster Joseph Goebbels: “Herzlichen Willkommen zu dem Vaterland und das dritte Reich, Herr Ketchum.“
Ketchum EVP: “We are delighted to have been selected from several firms competing for your RFP (Request for Proposal) to help tell Germany’s story and to facilitate understanding of what your Führer is trying to accomplish in Central Europe.”
Goebbels: “The pleasure is ours. We are particularly pleased to meet with Ketchum Public Relations. Apparently, you have a solid track record of representing nations that don’t have…how should I say it…the easiest public story to tell.”
Ketchum EVP: “It’s nice to be recognized for our track record. We are particularly good at competing in the arena of public opinion and national brand management for countries that want to insure their rightful interests are respected and understood.”
Goebbels: “As you know, earlier this year we peacefully completed an Anschluss bringing together German-speaking Austria together with das Reich. We believe this connection was only fair and just.”
Ketchum EVP: “And now, if I understand you correctly, Germany wants to do the same for the ethnic Germans that were artificially separated from the Vaterland by the Versailles Treaty and the establishment of thrown-together states, such as Czechoslovakia.”
Goebbels: “That is exactly why you are being paid so handsomely, say $1.6 million in U.S. currency every six months, to tell the Führer’s great story. He is fully aware of our meeting today, and is pleased you are joining our team.”
Ketchum EVP: “Let me get this right. Your Führer will soon be meeting with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to discuss the Sudetenland question. How can we help? We have offices in Berlin, Munich, Prague and London. We are prepared to assist both here in Germany and elsewhere.”
Goebbels: “Don’t worry about Germany. My ministry has Alles in Ordnung when it comes to spreading our message within Germany. We could use some help in New York and London, However, you may have a conflict with our account and your Prague office.”
Ketchum EVP: “Let me reiterate that we really want your business. We have already taken the steps to register our business relationship with Germany with the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act. We have a track record of placing an op-ed for the oligarch of Russia with the New York Times. We could do the same for your Führer, advancing him as a Thought Leader when it comes to hegemony in Europe.”
Goebbels: “Sehr gut, but what about the upcoming summit in Munich between der Führer and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain? We really need help with Fleet Street in the City of London.”
Ketchum EVP: “We have already taken the liberty to brand the Munich conference as “Peace for Our Time.” Our goal is to ensure that the appeasing and pleasing “Peace for Our Time” is on the lips of informed publics, particularly in London, New York and Washington. Those are our prime audiences.”
Goebbels: “And what about your Czech office in bothersome, Prague”?
Ketchum EVP: “Kein Problem Herr Minister. We will set up the Mother of All Chinese Walls. Our Prague office will not interfere with your plans for German media and our assistance in the U.K. and the USA. I trust that everything will go along swimmingly.”
Goebbels: “We will have indeed have ‘Peace for Our Time.’ Ha…”
Ketchum EVP: “We are happy to represent you in selling your assistance to the Sudetenland ethnic minorities to skeptical publics. Is there anything else we can do”?
Goebbels: “There is this matter of the Polish Corridor…Maybe we should discuss a retainer relationship.”
Ketchum EVP: “We really love retainers…”