Ukraine: it’s time for the ad holding groups to get off the Caviar Express

So far all we’ve had from the big ad holding companies on their response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is that they’re supporting their staff – Publicis has 350 in Ukraine and WPP 200 although many of them are leaving or trying to leave – but nothing on severing ties with Russian clients or doing business in Russia (where they have many more staff.)

Of course you can hardly support staff in these locations if you close down operations but that’s a dilemma for every company.

Some big companies are severing ties with Russia (they say) including a number of oil giants and, most notably perhaps, Apple which has stopped selling products there and closed down apps. Meaning, among other things, that ApplePay doesn’t work.

PR and lobbying firms are most obviously in the firing line, having trousered enormous amounts of Russian cash from the oligarch-dominated kleptocracy in recent years – the so-called ‘Caviar Express.’

So far US fianncial PR giant FTI Consulting says it has severed ties with Russia and leading UK independent Brunswick has stopped working for the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, now in abeyance anyway as Germany has refused to complete it.

But all the big ad holding companies have extensive global PR operations alongside, in many cases, lobbying. WPP is an investor in Peter Mandelson’s Global Counsel firm. It owns Hill+Knowlton Strategies and BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe) among many others. Ogilvy has a big PR arm.

Publicis’ PR operations are largely grouped under MSL while Omnicom Public Relations Group includes Fleishman Hillard and Ketchum. Interpublic has Golin, among others.

Doing PR for the Kremlin is rather a lost cause at the moment but are any of these entities still receiving fees from Russia?

Among brands (aside from Apple) Ford has suspended operations in the region while Nike has paused Russian online orders. Boeing says it’s suspending “large operations,” hardly surprising as its tech and parts must play some role in the Russian military. Disney and Warner have delayed film releases in Russia.

These are nearly all large American companies, so may have no choice. Others like Coca-Cola and Pepsi are still mulling what to do. The decision may be made for them anyway as, with the Western financial squeeze, Russians might not be able to pay for their products anyway. Visa and Mastercard are basically not working any more in Russia.

But back to the ad holding companies: looking after your staff is one (important) thing but there’s also the need to take a stance. In the social media age the penalty for doing nothing is widespread condemnation.

It’s time for WPP’s Mark Read and his holding company peers to be more transparent on exactly where they stand.

One Comment

  1. Just noticed this – for the record WPP no longer owns any share of Mandelson’s Global Counsel consultancy.

    I think link was mainly personal through Mandelson and Martin Sorrell. They used to go together to the Cossack parties at Davos given by the oligarch Oleg Derepaska.

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