Ruder Finn

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Ruder Finn, Inc. “is one of the world’s largest independent global communications and creative agencies with dual headquarters in the United States and China”1

It has numerous corporate clients, including an association with the tobacco industry that stretches back decades.

Background

Ruder Finn was founded by David Finn and William Ruder in 1948, with singer Perry Como the agency’s first client, and is now one of the world’s biggest privately owned PR agencies.2

Ruder Finn represents more than 250 corporations, governments, not-for-profit organisations and start-ups.3

It has four main divisions: health and wellness, corporate reputation, technology and innovation, and consumer.4

The agency has seven main offices worldwide, in China, India, Singapore, the UK and the US, and includes McDonalds, Mondelez International, PepsiCo, Sanofi, and Volkswagen among its clients.5

Ruder Finn employs more than 700 staff and its global revenue rose 10% to $78 million in 2019.6

Senior management

As of May 2020, the senior management of Ruder Finn included:7

  • Kathy Bloomgarden, Chief Executive Officer
  • Michael Schubert, Chief Innovation Officer
  • Peggy Walsh, Global Chief Financial Officer
  • Elan Shou, Regional Director of Asia
  • Laura Ryan, Executive Vice President, Corporate Communications
  • Nick Leonard, UK Managing Director
  • Rachel Spielman, Executive Vice President, Storytelling and Media
  • Keith Hughes, Executive Vice President, Head of U.S. Corporate Practice at Ruder Finn
  • Robin Kim, Global Head of Technology
  • Keith Bloomgarden, Head of Operations
  • Christie Anbar, Managing Director, Global Healthcare
  • Atul Sharma, Managing Director, India
  • John Nolan, Executive Vice President, Brand Marketing
  • Monica Marshall, Global Lead RF Relate – People. Purpose. Policy

Links with the Tobacco Industry

Ruder Finn’s long relationship with the tobacco industry, dating back to the 1960s, is documented in tobacco industry documents publicly disclosed during a series of US court cases in the 1990s.

The agency worked on public relations and advertising campaigns for Philip Morris (now Philip Morris USA and Philip Morris International), as well as for the Tobacco Institute, a lobbying body formed by the tobacco industry in 1958 in order to communicate its agenda to the US government and public.

It benefitted from a long-standing relationship between George Weissman, former chairman and CEO of Philip Morris, and Ruder Finn co-founders David Finn and William Ruder.8

The agency resumed its relationship with the tobacco firm in 2019, albeit at arms length. Ruder Finn was given a seven-figure sum to work for the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. The Foundation says that it is an independent organisation but is solely funded by Philip Morris. (For more on the work with the Foundation see below).

1960s

On 11 January 1964, the US Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health released its first report and concluded that smoking causes lung cancer and laryngeal cancer in men and is a probable cause of lung cancer in women.9

Three months later, Philip Morris signed an agreement with Ruder Finn.10

The agency engaged in a campaign to deny the scientific evidence that smoking causes cancer and diffuse public fears over the safety of smoking. In one such example, in a press release issued on 28 October 1968, James C. Bowling, Vice President for Philip Morris Incorporated, called for “care, cooperation and confidence” and urged an attempt to “find the truth” rather than a “government answer” or an “industry answer” to the problem.11

During this decade, Ruder Finn’s work included arranging a series of promotional appearances for Philip Morris spokesman Johnny Roventini to accompany the launch of Marlboro Green, a menthol cigarette.1213

1970s

On 28 February 1970, Ruder Finn proposed that the tobacco industry position itself as “a responsible industry with a strong sense of duty and obligation to the public — a position similar to the beer and liquor industry.”14 A core message of the advertising it recommended was: “We reject the outrageous charges that are now being made against smoking. They simply are not true.”14

The agency targeted leading scientists in a bid to downplay the risks of smoking. One example was Dr Ernst Wynder, founder of the American Health Foundation, who Ruder Finn took to lunch in June 1973. A note of the lunch stated: “if there were some way that he and the cigarette industry, or he and the food industry could work together and seek out common interests that go toward satisfying the desires of all sides, then I believe this would be an amenable approach for him.”15

Subsequently, the agency informed Philip Morris: “I thought you might want to see the press kit that we have prepared for the opening of the new facility for Ernie Wynder’s American Health Foundation. We prepared it completely at Ruder & Finn – and please note that we have handled it so there is not one single mention of the problem of smoking and health.”15

In addition to arranging support for scientific institutions, the agency mounted a series of high-profile art sponsorships to promote Philip Morris and its brands. These included exhibitions at the Whitney Museum in New York and Galeria Bonina de Buenos Aires in Argentina.16

For more information on how the tobacco industry uses targeted donations to improve its corporate image, visit our page on CSR Strategy. 

Negating the risk

A report for Philip Morris by Ruder Finn at the start of the decade argued that smoking should be far down the list of health priorities. It claimed: “Many, if not most, of the federal government’s findings concerning the dangers of cigarette smoking have not been proven by clinical experiments.”17

The report ‘Cigarette Smoking and Other Hazards to Health and Safety: A Comparison’ cited eight dangers “that are as menacing (or more so) to individual and public health and safety as cigarette smoking.”17 These were: mental illness, accidents, chronic diseases, alcoholism, drug addiction, crime and violence, air pollution and malnutrition and obesity.

It argued that radiation pollution, water pollution and pesticides were “three long-range hazards which, if not prevented or controlled, may pose a potentially much greater threat to life than cigarette smoking.”17 By comparing tobacco to other known threats to human health, the industry sought to minimise and shift the public and scientific community’s focus away from the perceived harm of smoking.

Throughout the seventies the agency also continued its work on sponsorship programmes for Philip Morris ranging from scientific meetings to film festivals. It promoted annual “Philip Morris Science Symposiums” in the mid-seventies, which featured presentations from Nobel laureates.18

Ruder Finn also arranged film festivals to promote the US Benson and Hedges and Marlboro brands in San Francisco and Boston during the same period.19

For more information on the tobacco industry’s historic attempts to influence the scientific agenda, see our page Influencing Science.

1980s

Concerns over a conflict of interest saw the American Academy of Family Physicians stop using Ruder Finn as its PR agency in 1981, in reponse to pressure from anti-smoking organisation Doctors Ought to Care.20

William Ruder left the agency in 1981 to start his own consultancy, but remained a member of Ruder Finn’s board21 and sat on the Tobacco Institute Communications Committee between 1984 and 1986.22

1990s

When France brought in a ban on tobacco advertising and restrictions on where people could smoke, Philip Morris asked Ruder Finn to devise a corporate affairs programme to strengthen its influence in the country.

The agency proposed:23

“establishing a discrete, credible and effective voice and an institutionalised lobby (or more than one over time) to defend its interests without being visible as Philip Morris ensuring a proactive influence on legislative, regulatory and grass roots initiatives as they develop in order to extend the time frame and environmental space for smokers in France.” and recommended that the “defense of issues surrounding tobacco needs to be done in a third party context – non-tobacco linked experts, sources need to speak on behalf of tobacco interests.”23

This recommendation advocates using front groups to promote tobacco industry interests and influence legislation, effectively outsourcing advocacy for the industry’s agenda.

Ruder Finn also worked on a major arts sponsorship deal that resulted in Philip Morris supporting a history of abstraction exhibition at the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1996.24

In October 1998, Planned TV Arts Washington, a division of Ruder Finn, arranged a radio tour for tobacco consultant John Luik to spread the message of “junk science” in relation to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s warnings over Environmental Tobacco Smoke.25

Discarding the past

During a debate on the ethics of tobacco PR in New York on 8 September 2014, Ruder Finn’s Chief Innovation Officer, Michael Schubert, said:26

“I come from a company that when the surgeon general came out with its warning and it was determined even before the surgeon general came out with this warning but when it started to be explored that cigarettes really were harmful to your health many, many years ago, we resigned all our cigarettes accounts and would not promote cigarette smoking to people.” adding: “You could be promoting selling something and getting people to do something that was not good for them and we didn’t want to be part of that.”

PR for Foundation for a Smoke-Free World

Despite that pronouncement, five-years-later Ruder Finn returned to the sector – though this time working for an organisation which says it is independent of the tobacco industry..

The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World positions itself as an independent scientific organisation aimed at ‘accelerating the end of smoking’ and is solely funded by Philip Morris International.272829

In February 2019 the Foundation contracted Ruder Finn to “manage global communications and the Foundation’s annual report.”30 The agency was paid US$2,072,480 by the Foundation in 2019.29

In 2019, Ruder Finn produced a short film featuring Derek Yach, the Foundation’s President.31 In the ‘Message from Derek’ film, posted on YouTube on 15 August 2019, Yach called for engagement with smokers, who he claimed have been ostracised from tobacco control. He also said the tobacco industry had an opportunity to change: “What happens if the unthinkable really happens and they are starting to find a way of separating nicotine from the bad stuff?”32

According to their LinkedIn accounts, Ruder Finn’s Brian Laird, Senior Vice President, Healthcare/Consumer Digital & Social,33 and Winston Duncan, Account Executive,34 are among those working on the Foundation account in 2020.

Other controversial clients

The agency was hired to promote the causes of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Balkan war in the early 1990s.35

Ruder Finn also worked for the Global Climate Coalition in 1997, representing the interests of fossil fuel firms lobbying against moves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.36

In 2004, it was brought in to help the US Tuna Foundation fight back against warnings of mercury in canned tuna.37

Pro-democracy campaigners protested outside Ruder Finn’s London office in 2012 after it emerged that the agency was working for the Maldives government, which had been accused of removing President Mohamed Nasheed in a coup d’etat.38

Relevant Links

Ruder Finn website

Tobacco Tactics Resources

 

References

  1. Ruder Finn, Ruder Finn Group Appoints Industry Veteran Christie Anbar as Global Healthcare Lead, press release, 9 January 2020, accessed May 2020
  2. Holmes Report, Ruder Finn Co-Founder Bill Ruder Dies, Aged 89, PRovoke, 28 February 2011, accessed May 2020
  3. Ruder Finn, Ruder Finn Group Appoints Industry Veteran Christie Anbar as Global Healthcare Lead, PRNewswire, 9 January 2020, accessed May 2020
  4. Ruder Finn, company website, undated, accessed May 2020
  5. Ruder Finn, company website, undated, accessed May 2020
  6. PRWeek, Agency Business Report 2020: Ruder Finn, 21 April 2020, accessed May 2020
  7. Ruder Finn, company website, undated, accessed May 2020
  8. Eleanor Munro, interview of Caroline Goldsmith, Archives of American Art, New York, 10-21 June 2004, accessed May 2020
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, History of the Surgeon General’s Reports on Smoking and Health, undated, accessed May 2020
  10. Philip Morris, Philip Morris History, January 1984, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 201017779-201017780, accessed May 2020
  11. Richard Gilbert, Ruder Finn, Major Tobacco Company Executive Says That “Care, Cooperation And Confidence” Will Provide Acceptable Answers To Smoking And Health Controversy, 28 October 1968, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 3990750699-3990750703, accessed May 2020
  12. Dick Weiner, Ruder Finn, memo, 5 January 1964, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2010018473-2010018474, accessed May 2020
  13. Jim Lucas, Ruder Finn, New Marlboro Menthol Cigarettes Introduced Here As Companion To Marlboro Filter Cigarettes, 7 March 1966, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2010025995-2010025997, accessed May 2020
  14. abRuder Finn, Project “B”: an alternative proposal to project “A.”, 30 March 1970, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 204002117-204002145, accessed May 2020
  15. abN.Fields, S.Chapman, Chasing Ernst L Wynder: 40 years of Philip Morris’ efforts to influence a leading scientist, 1 January 2003, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 3015498328-3015498335, accessed May 2020
  16. Unknown, How Ruder Finn helps corporations nurture cultural roots, 9 June 1977, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: TI54071095, accessed May 2020
  17. abcRuder Finn, Cigarette Smoking and Other Hazards to Health and Safety: A Comparison, 9 June 1977, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 1004855108-1004855307, accessed May 2020
  18. Ken Defren, Ruder Finn, Abstracts From The Second Philip Morris Science Symposium, 30 October 1975, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2021623063-2021623066, accessed May 2020
  19. Jon P. Kraushar, Philip Morris, memo: Product Promotion / Film Festival, August 1976, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2042016687-2042016689, accessed May 2020
  20. Medical World News, Because of Philip Morris account, PR agency and AAFP sever ties, 21 December 1981, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: TI05391382-TI05391383, accessed May 2020
  21. Jaimy Lee, William Ruder passes away, PRWeek, 22 February 2011 , accessed May 2020
  22. Unknown, DOJ – Plaintiff’s Factual Memorandum, 17 August 2004, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 5000917754-5000917868, accessed May 2020
  23. abRuder Finn, Preliminary Proposal for a Corporate Affairs Programme Philip Morris France, p.3, February 1991, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2500120377-2500120438, accessed May 2020.
  24. Ruder Finn, Abstraction In The Twentieth Century: Total Risk, Freedom, Discipline Opens At The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, January 1996, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 2044730213, accessed May 2020
  25. Pat Pellerin, letter, 6 October 1998, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 190224247-190224250, accessed May 2020
  26. Jack O’Dwyer, O’Dwyers, Ethics of Tobacco PR Argued by Holmes, Cohen, 18 September 2014, accessed May 2020
  27. Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, 2017 Tax Return, 26 March 2018, accessed from Charity Navigator website, June 2020
  28. Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, Form 990-PF, 2018 Tax Return, 13 May 2019, accessed June 2020
  29. abFoundation for a Smoke-Free World, Form 990-PF, 2019 Tax Return, 30 April 2020, accessed June 2020
  30. Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, Minutes of a special meeting of the board of directors, 12 February 2019, accessed May 2020
  31. Luiz Schiel, Foundation for a Smoke Free World – Message from Derek, personal website, video, undated, accessed May 2020
  32. Foundation for a Smoke Free World, Message from Derek, YouTube, 15 August 2019, accessed May 2020
  33. Brian Laird, LinkedIn profile, undated, accessed May 2020
  34. Winston Duncan, LinkedIn profile, undated, accessed May 2020
  35. Tom O’Sullivan, Truth is the first casualty in PR offensive, The Independent, 21 August 1992, accessed May 2020
  36. Keith Hammond, Astroturf Troopers, How the polluters’ lobby uses phony front groups to attack the Kyoto treaty, Mother Jones, 4 December 1997, accessed May 2020
  37. Beth Herskovits, Ruder Finn helping US Tuna Foundation make health claims, PRWeek, 23 June 2004, accessed May 2020
  38. Matt Cartmell, Protest hits Ruder Finn, PRWeek, 27 July 2012, accessed May 2020