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Ketchum is one of the largest public relations agencies employing over 1100 people across 21 offices and with 35 affiliates around the world. [1][2]

This is a large, but fairly hidden, public relations firm which is part of a larger group offering global marketing, branding, and corporate communications services. It was founded in 1923 in Pittsburgh by George Ketchum -- originally as an advertising company which later evolved to include a public relations practice. It is now headquartered New York City.


In the late 1990s there was a global buy-up spree of all of the major advertising, public relations, polling, fundraising and campaign managing firms. This resulted eventually in them all being incorporated into three gigantic worldwide 'communications' multinational umbrella conglomerates (four if you limit it to advertising).

Each company in these conglomerates keeps their own management and identity, and they regularly buy smaller firms as subsidiaries. So the effects of the concentration of power and control in these umbrella organisations is rarely obvious -- and it is rarely exercised except to service the largest of corporate interests. Ketchum has been owned by Omnicom Group since 1996 -- this group has a market capitalisation over over $20 billion (and they hardly own anything tangible). They are less than half the size of the WPP group.

The other two are WPP and Publicis Groupe -- or three if you include IPG (Interpublic) which mainly has an advertising focus)

  • See Wikipedia on Ketchum Inc. [1]
  • See Wikipedia on Omnicom Group. [2]


In 1923 George Ketchum and his brother Carlton G. Ketchum formed Ketchum Communications as a Pittsburgh-based advertising company which later evolved to include a public relations practice.[3]

In 1996 it became a subsidiary of the Omnicom Group with its work consolidated into five practice areas Brand Marketing, Corporate, Food & Nutrition, Healthcare and Technology.[4]

Like all of these large public relations firms, while servicing wealthy corporations and industries -- often over a national or international territory -- they often walk the borderline of illegality, and almost always overstep the boundaries of immorality. Deception is their stock-in-trade, and conspiracy is often intrinsic in client discussions.

Ketchum and the Clorox factory

In 1991 a leaked memo from Ketchum, hired by the Clorox Corporation to develop a crisis management plan, detailed proposed responses to a number of hypothetical scenarios, including a peaceful protest by Greenpeace at a Clorox factory. Among the recommended tactics was the launch of a "Stop Environmental Terrorism" public relations campaign.[5] [6][7]

Ketchum and the Armstrong Williams scandal

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Education signed a $700,000 contract with Ketchum to do "rankings of newspaper coverage of the No Child Left Behind law" and to produce a video news release (VNR) touting the law, which featured Education Secretary Rod Paige and promoted a tutoring program offered under the new law. The VNR, narrated by faux reporter Karen Ryan (actually a PR pro), generated controversy since it "comes across as a news story but fails to make clear the reporter involved was paid with taxpayer money." A similar VNR promoting the Bush Medicare law was found by the Government Accountability Office to be covert propaganda in violation of federal law. [3]

Download Ketchum's contract with the U.S. Department of Education, to promote the No Child Left Behind Act (1.6 MB PDF file).

Download Ketchum's request for increased funding for their "Minority Outreach Campaign," featuring Armstrong Williams (132 kb PDF file).

Documents obtained on Ketchum contracts with the U.S. Department of Education through a FOIA request from the People for the American Way are available for download here.

Cellphone Industry Scandal

In 1993 a series of reports and books on the potential for the new analog cellular mobile phones to produce brain cancer and the proliferation of ugly base-station transmission towers in suburban settings, created a health scare in many cities in the developed world.

The Cellular Telephone Industry Association (CTIA) initially reacted to this threat to their business by offering $1 million for research, and demanding that the US Federal Government appoint a 'blue-ribbon panel' of scientists to oversee research to prove that cellphones were safe. This trivial reaction to what was perceived as a real threat, caused a storm in Congress.

The CTIA president Thomas Wheeler held immediate fire-fighting meetings with his advisors, and especially with Motorola, the company which dominated the industry, and, as a result, they put up $25 million (initially) to fund a major research program through a new entity which was established by their public relations firm Ketchum. They also enlisted John D. Graham, the director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis

Lorraine Thelian, the director of the Washington DC offices of Ketchum, found for them the ideal science-for-sale entrepreneur to run the research organization. George L. Carlo was an experienced science lobbyist for Philip Morris and the tobacco industry, who had built his pro-corporate reputation in fighting the battles over Agent Orange and dioxins for the Dow Chemical Company, before establishing his own service firm Health and Environmental Services (along with a number of other pseudo-think-tanks, and societies).

Carlo set up for the cellphone industry, the Wireless Technology Research as a limited liability company, totally controlled by himself and his wife. Over the next few years it spent $27.8 million of the CTIA's money on research guaranteed not to find anything of health significance.

Unfortunately, Carlo eventually split with the CTIA acrimoniously, and he set up a number of rival operations promoting the cellphone health scare, and selling protective devices to stop users getting brain cancer. Overall, Carlo proved to be more of a liability than anyone could imagine. [[4]]

Ketchum Down Under

In text submitted for its listing in the February 1994 edition of O'Dwyer's PR Services Report, Ketchum boasted of its crisis management prowess in defeating a campaign by an unnamed Australian environmental group over a "toxic contamination" site. "When an environmental group launched an attack on an Australian pesticide manufacturer, the government shut the plant down amid fears of widespread pollution. KPR helped organize a response that led to the plant's reopening within a deadline set by the company. As a result, the environmental group received significant criticism for distorting the facts and alarming the public." [8]

U.S. Government PR Contracts

According to the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform Minority Office, Ketchum received the following amounts per year, for federal PR contracts: [5]

  • $1,692,000 in 1999
  • $2,552,000 in 2000
  • $3,657,000 in 2001
  • $2,563,000 in 2002
  • $31,163,457 in 2003
  • $58,895,846 in 2004

The firm's website and the Public Relations Society of America's database of Silver Anvil Award Winners indicate that Ketchum has worked for the following federal agencies, in addition to its Education Department work:

  • Internal Revenue Service, to promote “Ten Minute Taxes” with Telefile;
  • Department of Health and Human Services, to “change the face of Medicare,” promote long-term health care planning, encourage preventative care, and raise awareness of home health care information; and
  • U.S. Army, to “reconnect the Army with the American people” and boost recruiting around its 225th birthday, in 2001.

In May 2005, a PR Week story on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services request for proposals on its outreach work over the next five years reported that, "Under the last umbrella contract ... Ketchum led a $25 million integrated marketing campaign to drive people to the Medicare (800) number and website." [6]

Despite the controversy over the Armstrong Williams contract, Ketchum won a a $25 million contract, including $2 million in fees, to manage the advertising campaign as part of a $300 million, three-year U.S. government effort encouraging seniors to sign up for the new Medicare prescription drug program.

Ketchum "produced a controversial series of prepackaged news stories," or video news releases (VNRs), for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). VNRs that Ketchum produced for the Department of Education were also recently found to be "covert propaganda."

The Washington Post reported, "HHS officials say Ketchum got the new work because it already had a multiyear contract to provide public relations services for the department. The firm promised the new ads will not cross the legal line." HHS's Kathleen Harrington said that seniors trust Medicare information more when it comes from the government, so "it's in the interest of our success ... to label everything appropriately." [7]


Ketchum's client list (most listings from O'Dwyers PR Daily) includes:


Senior executives

Other staff

Contact information

711 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Phone: 646/935-3900
Fax: 646/935-4499

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Ketchum Public Relations Quick Facts About Ketchum, corporate website, accessed November 30, 2011
  2. Ketchum, Inc. Corporate homepage, organizational website, accessed November 30, 2011
  3. Ketchum, Inc. Meet George Ketchum, corporate website, accessed November 30, 2011
  4. Stuart Elliott THE MEDIA BUSINESS: Advertising;Omnicom Agrees to Buy Ketchum Communications, New York Times, January 11, 1996
  5. Jonathan Nack Chlorine company targets Greenpeace, published article, Green Left Weekly, September 4, 1991
  6. Sheldon Rampton Terrorism as Pretext,, Fourth Quarter 2001, Volume 8, No. 4
  7. Ketchum Communications Crisis Scenario #2, facsimile/internal notes, estimated date 1991, Downloaded pdf extract from Ketchum's plan for Clorox, accessed November 30, 2011
  8. "Ketchum PR", O'Dwyer's PR Services Report, February 1994. (pdf)
  9. "Ketchum to Represent KFC in U.K. and Ireland," The Holmes Report (sub req'd), October 12, 2008.

External resources

External articles