Diana Marszalek 03 Mar 2022 // 5:48PM GMT
NEW YORK — FleishmanHillard continues to distance itself from Russia after having divested from its Moscow affiliate, FleishmanHillard Vanguard, last year, in one of the PR industry’s most direct responses to Russia’s assault on Ukraine.
The agency said in a statement to PRovoke Media: “FleishmanHillard condemns Russia’s invasion and violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. We hope for a resolution soon that respects the freedom of Ukraine and protects the lives of its people. We divested our ownership in an affiliate in Russia in 2021. We do not own any operations or have employees in Russia or Ukraine.
"To our knowledge, we do not currently represent any Russian, Donetsk, Luhansk or Belarus clients, and have no clients on the recently updated sanctions lists. In addition, FleishmanHillard will not accept any work with Russian, Luhansk or Donetsk based companies or individuals, or with majority Russian owned enterprises or investment funds.”
FH’s declaration to not accept work with companies or individuals tied to Russia or Luhansk or Donetsk (the two breakaway territories in Ukraine led by pro-Russian separatists), as well as its 2021 divestiture, is notable for its stance against working with Russia.
The move also positions FH as an industry leader in separating itself from Russia while many PR firms, a week into the war, are still determining how best to handle their Russia-related business as the situation unfolds.
FTI Consulting, whose strategic communications segment terminated its contract with Sberbank in keeping with US sanctions, is also taking steps to unwind from Russia that go beyond the government edicts that precipitated the firm severing ties with Russia’s largest bank.
An FTI statement said: “We are viewing what has been unfolding in Ukraine with distress and are looking for ways to support individuals and families there. Many world governments have imposed sanctions against certain Russian individuals, government agencies and companies. FTI Consulting will comply with those sanctions.
"In addition, though it is technically permissible in some circumstances to work with companies that are subject to so-called “sectoral sanctions,” as of now we have made the decision to not work for these companies; firmwide, we are taking the necessary steps to wind down those matters. We also are in the process of reviewing all ongoing connections with non-sanctioned Russian entities and, where it is appropriate to withdraw from those matters, we will do so. Finally, we will not be taking on any new Russia-controlled clients at this time.”
Yet this is still a wait-and-see time for many communications firms that are monitoring the situation but have stopped short of cutting ties with Russia.
APCO Worldwide, which has been in Russia since 1989, for instance, said: “Our first thoughts are obviously with the people of Ukraine, in particular the families, friends and colleagues who have been caught up in this terrible situation. We are also concerned about the welfare and safety of our small Russian team. We are mindful that they too are caught up in this situation through no fault of their own and we want to ensure they are taken care of as best we can. We are monitoring carefully the domestic legal and political situation as it relates to doing business in Russia. We are working with our colleagues to assess their options and to ensure their wellbeing.”
Havas, which has PR, marketing and creative teams in Kyiv and Moscow, is taking a similar approach, saying: “With the situation escalating rapidly over the past few days — we have been in close and constant contact with our affiliated agencies in Ukraine. So far, we are relieved to know that all the teams there are safe and doing ok. They are our primary concern, and we will stay in close contact with them over the coming days, offering any support they need and making any further arrangements should they become necessary. Given the rapidly changing nature of the situation, we will be monitoring it closely and remain ready to act should we need to, to ensure our colleagues and friends stay safe.”
At Ketchum, which has a sizeable office in Moscow via its previous acquisition of Maslov PR, the firm said in a statement to PRovoke Media: "Our top priority is the safety and well-being of our people. As a global firm with a tight-knit international community of colleagues, including those in our Moscow office, we are shocked and disheartened by the evolving conflict in Russia and Ukraine.
"As we closely monitor the impact of this situation, our focus is on supporting our colleagues and delivering business continuity for our clients, both domestically and internationally. Like everyone watching this issue unfold, we’re deeply concerned about the safety and livelihoods of the Ukrainian people, and as such we’ve dedicated funds to the International Rescue Committee to aid in on-the-ground support for refugees of the conflict."
For Weber Shandwick, which has neither operations nor employees in Russia and Ukraine, the war’s effect revolves more around the agency’s work with clients than managing its own affairs in the region, the agency said in a statement:
“In terms of client guidance, last week, we established a Ukraine task force comprising advisors across public affairs, social impact, crisis & issues, media security/disinformation, paid media and employee communications. This group is actively working with companies across sectors to provide guidance on business and communications implications for companies amid the conflict.
"We do no work for Russia-based companies or Russian government organizations. Through an independent affiliate, we help multinational clients on ad hoc projects regarding the Russian market.”
Parent company Interpublic Group, however, does have employees in Russia. In a memo to employees last week, CEO Philippe Krakowsky wrote:
“As we all come to grips with the disturbing reality on the ground in Ukraine, you should know that we have spent the last few months in contact with our affiliate offices there to offer what assistance we can. We will of course continue to keep those lines of communication open, so as to best support our colleagues.
"We are also in contact with our leadership across the region to see what’s either possible or required in neighboring countries in order to look after our people. As you would expect, we have suspended business travel to both Ukraine and Russia, and will continue to monitor the situation and adjust plans accordingly. We’ll do our best to keep you posted regarding any and all developments relevant to each of you.”
At Grayling, which has offices in both Russia and Ukraine, global CEO Sarah Scholefield said: “This is a very difficult situation, particularly for our colleagues in Ukraine and Russia, and who are our priority right now. We are focused on their wellbeing and remain wholly committed to them.”
Tina McCorkindale, president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations, said she sees the communications industry lagging in severing ties with Russia.
“On the PR agency side, not many publicly disavow or withdraw their relationship with Russian clients or organizations, even though some management consultancies have,” McCorkindale said. “The challenge, though, is companies and agencies may have employees or offices in Russia and/or Ukraine, so they need to figure out how to best support their employees. Companies and public relations agencies should immediately audit their (or their clients') ties to Russia and increase mental health and other services for all employees around the world.”
Additional reporting by Maja Pawinska Sims