Malaysia Airlines and the Russian government have something surprising in common: a PR flack.
The Kremlin’s longtime public relations agency, Ketchum, is the same one Malaysia Airlines hired to provide “crisis counsel” after Flight MH370 disappeared in March. It is unclear if Ketchum has any continuing relationship with the troubled airline: If so, this could present a challenge and a potential conflict interest for the firm, which operates offices in six continents and dozens of cities throughout the globe.
Arun Sundhaman, a journalist for the Holmes Report, which covers the PR industry, tweeted that Malaysia Airlines is not working with Ketchum on the MH17 disaster.
Ketchum (Russia's PR firm) not working MH17 after handling MH370 crisis. Malaysia Airlines using local PR partners, including UK's PCC.
â€” Arun Sudhaman (@ArunSudhaman) July 18, 2014
Representatives from Ketchum were not available to comment prior to publication, though IBTimes has been told someone will respond to our questions.
According to a March 2014 story in the Daily Beast, Ketchum’s relationship with the Kremlin began in 2006, and cost Moscow a reported $1.5 million for the second half of 2013. A former Ketchum associate interviewed for that story said Russia is not getting its money’s worth, as President Vladmir Putin typically ignores the firm’s advice.
“[Putin] does his own PR,” Angus Roxburgh, who worked on the account from 2006-2009, told the Daily Beast. “I can honestly think of nothing that Ketchum has ever done that has actually improved Russia's image.”
Putin, already an unpopular figure in the West, has been a target of harsh criticism among those who believe Russia supplied the missile that brought down MH17. But Putin has repeatedly suggested that Ukraine is responsible for the tragedy, and state-run Russian TV stations have reportedly been airing an interpretation of the disaster that presents Russia in a much more favorable light than in the rest of the world. On Tuesday, Putin agreed that he would help ensure that pro-Russia separatists cooperate with the investigation in the MH17 disaster, but insisted that the U.S. should be focusing its efforts away from Russia and instead work on persuading Ukranian authorities to commit to a ceasefire.
"We are being called on to use our influence with the separatists in southeastern Ukraine. We of course will do everything in our power but that is not nearly enough," Putin told his advisory Security Council, according to a Reuters report. "Ultimately, there is a need to call on the authorities in Kiev to respect basic norms of decency, and at least for a short time implement a ceasefire."
We will update this story when more information becomes available.