I was glad to see Ketchum’s representation of Russia come to an end, because it seemed clear that the Putin regime was not liberalizing, but actually regressing.

I don’t fault Ketchum for taking on the assignment in the first place. In fact, I spoke out in the firm’s defense when it was criticized for helping place a Putin op-ed in the New York Times in 2013. Here’s why, as I told Reuters at the time:

"Many governments seek public relations and public affairs representation to help explain their policies, programs and cultures to foreign stakeholders. This is a very appropriate activity, and one that helps advance peace and justice. Here’s how: Engagement by any institution – governmental, private for-profit, NGO or other – is a recognition that public opinion and the needs of external stakeholders matter.

"The most effective public relations activity is interactive dialogue, meaning that one expresses points of view, listens to others’ points of view, and seeks to find common ground. When public relations firms advise clients, they invariably advocate for the importance of listening to and accommodating others’ views. Most leading global public relations firms are very careful about the clients they accept and decline business when they feel that the client’s purposes are not legitimate or that the client is disinterested in building meaningful stakeholder relationships based on mutual understanding and trust."

Public relations firms often are criticized for taking on foreign governments, but they often say they are motivated by the opportunity to encourage reform. The fact that it doesn’t always work doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be tried. In The Holmes Report’s article on Ketchum-Russia, Arun Sudhaman reports that Bell Pottinger dropped its representation of Belarus when the country “reneged on its promises” to institute reforms.

As PRWeek’s Steve Barrett notes, the Ketchum-Russia contract was more about promoting investment in Russia than about encouraging reform, but I would argue that deeper economic ties between Russia and the West, particularly viewed through the lens that existed at the time, when Russia was a member of the G8, should have been helpful in edging the country more and more toward the rule of law and the acceptance of international norms.

The fact that this hasn’t worked, or perhaps has suffered a setback, says more about President Putin’s political views and ambitions than it does about the value of engagement.