As part of a $300 million, three-year U.S. government effort encouraging seniors to sign up for the new Medicare prescription drug program, the PR firm Ketchum won a $25 million contract, including $2 million in fees, to manage the advertising campaign. 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."
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