Ketchum Inc.

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Ketchum Inc.
Industry public relations and advertising
Founded Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania USA 1919
Founders George Ketchum
Headquarters New York, New York, USA
Key people Ray Kotcher, Chairman
Rob Flaherty, CEO
Parent Omnicom Group
Website ketchum.com

Ketchum is a global public relations firm, offering marketing, branding, and corporate communications services. George Ketchum founded the firm as a Pittsburgh-based advertising company in 1919 and registered with the state on May 22, 1923. It later evolved to include a public relations practice. Since 1999 the firm has relocated to New York City and currently has 23 offices and 46 affiliates and associations in North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, and Latin America.[1] Ketchum covers five global practice areas: brand marketing, corporate communications, healthcare, food and nutrition, and technology.[2] In 1996 Ketchum's Pittsburgh-based public relations division was merged into the Omnicom Group with headquarters moving to New York.[3] The advertising division retained the Ketchum name and Pittsburgh headquarters until merging with Earle Palmer Brown in 1999, which granted Omnicom exclusive rights to the Ketchum brand.[4] On June 16, 2009, Ketchum announced a merger with Pleon based in Düsseldorf, Germany and is known as "Ketchum Pleon" in Europe.[5]

History[edit]

Ketchum Inc. has worked for some of the nation's largest corporations and industry trade groups. Over the years, the company has worked for such companies as Chase, FedEx, Delta Air Lines, Kodak, Macy's, Philips, Roche, World Economic Forum, Hewlett-Packard, Geek Squad, IBM, Genographic Project, Wendy's, and the California Raisin Advisory Board. Rob Flaherty currently serves as CEO of Ketchum, Inc., Ray Kotcher as chairman.

Ketchum has fulfilled contracts totaling over $100 million for the United States federal government. These include work for the Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Service; for the U.S. Army, to "reconnect the Army with the American people" and boost recruiting around its 225th birthday; and for the Department of Health and Human Services, to "change the face of Medicare," promote long-term health care planning, encourage preventive care, and present home care information. Large contract increases for Ketchum since 2003 mirror the PR spending boost for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, suggesting that Ketchum's Medicare work may be more extensive than is currently known.[6]

Lobbying for the Russian government[edit]

Ketchum Inc and its subsidiary GPlus Europe are among the PR agencies used by the Russian government to tout the alleged benefits of working in partnership with Russia.[7] The Russian government reportedly spends millions on these operations. GPlus specializes in recruiting former EU officials and eminent journalists. Gregor Kreuzhuber, who leads the company's pro-Gazprom operations, was previously European Commission industry spokesman. Peter Witt is a retired German deputy ambassador to the EU before he was hired by GPlus.

Angus Roxburgh, another GPlus worker, covered the First Chechen War for the BBC as the BBC's Moscow's Correspondent from late 1991.[8][9]

In October 2009 the EUObserver reported of a new pro-Russia campaign in Brussels.[10]

Department of Education scandal[edit]

The U.S. Department of Education has been accused of breaking Federal Law by paying commentators to publish articles and appear on talk shows promoting the agenda of the Bush Administration. The use of taxpayers money for this purpose is in violation of U.S. law and has been the subject of several Congressional investigations which reached their peak during the 2004 election battle. Some government reports have exonerated Ketchum and others strongly criticized the actions of the department and Ketchum. Further, Ketchum was strongly criticized by the public relations industry for its inept handling of this crisis.[11]

Propaganda scandal[edit]

In 2004, Ketchum produced a controversial series of prepackaged news stories for HHS that featured actors posing as journalists and touted drug benefits. The ads aired on at least 40 television stations and violated a federal propaganda ban because they did not inform viewers that they came from the government, the Government Accountability Office stated.

According to HHS officials, Ketchum got the new work because it already had a multiyear contract to provide public relations services for the department.[12]

Sotto Terra Dinner[edit]

From August 23 to 27, 2011, Ketchum organized dinners for ConAgra at a fictitious West Village restaurant called Sotto Terra, in order to promote some of their client's processed food products. The event was hosted by chef George Duran and food industry analyst Phil Lempert; New York city area food bloggers were invited and told food being served was prepared by chef Duran but were served ConAgra frozen foods instead. Ketchum filmed each dinner and hoped to use video footage for promotional purposes.

Guests were only informed of the true nature of the food being served at the end of the meal, their response being mainly negative (either due to perceived duplicity or being presented processed foods while expecting higher quality ingredients) and expressed these on their blogs;[13][14] many of the guest refused to sign a release allowing the use of footage from the event.

Faced with the reaction, director of corporate communications Jackie Burton issued an apology, saying “But we also understand that there were people who were disappointed and we’re sorry — we apologize that they felt that way.” ConAgra's senior director of public relations and social media Stephanie Moritz later said “It was never our intention to put any bloggers or their guests in an uncomfortable position and for that we are sorry,” also offering reimbursement for any incurred expense to the attendees.[15]

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