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Local PR Firm Caught in Worldwide Web of Bad Press

By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2005; Page E01

In early February, Scott Johnson, a partner in a small communications firm called Rock Creek Creative, issued a news release touting the company's role in the Orange Revolution -- the public protests that led to the election of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in December.

Johnson said he hoped the release would lead to "a nice local technology story" about the Bethesda company in one of the local newspapers, perhaps focusing on how a Web site the company designed had become the "virtual freedom plaza for the democracy movement" in the former Soviet state.

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The release did catch the attention of news editors.

Just not in Bethesda.

Within hours, a Russian government news agency seized on Rock Creek's release as proof that the United States had meddled in the Ukrainian presidential election.

Hate e-mail trickled into the nine-person firm.

Russian newspapers speculated about the firm's prior work for such groups as NATO and the CIA.

Yushchenko was quizzed about the company by the BBC, and Rock Creek's local client -- the nonprofit that had hired the firm to develop the Web site in the first place -- disavowed the company's statements.

For a PR company, it was a PR disaster.

"People [in Ukraine] were talking about it immediately. . . . The commentary in the Ukrainian media was 'What the hell are they talking about?' " said Taras Kuzio, a Ukrainian scholar who teaches at George Washington University.

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