FTI Consulting: managing reputations and risk

San Francisco (AFP)


FTI Consulting, the Washington PR firm at the center of complaints over its working methods, is a global business boasting a specialty in helping companies deal with risks to their reputations or bottom lines.

Its clients include Monsanto, which has suffered a series of high-stakes courtroom defeats in California, where three trials have ended with juries siding with plaintiffs blaming the company's controversial weedkiller Roundup for their cancer.

German agro-chemicals and drugs giant Bayer -- also an FTI client -- finalized its $66 billion acquisition of Monsanto last year, but the blockbuster purchase has turned out to be plagued with other costs.

FTI describes itself on its website as an independent consulting firm that helps businesses "manage change, mitigate risk and resolve disputes: financial, legal, operational, political an regulatory, reputational and transactional."

Founded in 1982, FTI says it has some 4,700 employees worldwide and operations in 76 cities. It has had offices in Brussels, Belgium, and has been included in a "transparency" registry in the European Union for several years.

The registry lists "interest groups," sometimes referred to as lobbying groups.

FTI reported that its net income climbed to $150.6 million last year on annual revenue of $2.02 billion.

The company has been billed as a leading "crisis management firm" and, among its services, sells advice on dealing with litigation and forensics in sectors including banking, energy, environment, technology, health, agro-chemicals and cybersecurity.

FTI's notable clients include General Motors, Exxon Mobil, Halliburton and Novartis, along with Internet titans Amazon, Facebook and Google.

- 'Discreet objectives' -

The consulting firm has a "strategic communications" team that it describes as focused on helping companies achieve "discreet business objectives."

When Bayer announced the acquisition of Monsanto in 2016, FTI deployed consultants in the US, London, Brussels and Germany to "support preparation" for the merger and help the Roundup maker "manage the global media attention."

EuropaBio, the European association for bio-industries, of which Monsanto Bayer is a member, retained FTI Consulting for help dealing with what they saw as "a lack of understanding and acceptance" about plant biotechnology.

In January, environmental group EarthRights claimed that consultants paid by oil giant Exxon posed as journalists while trying to question the NGO's legal counsel about a climate change lawsuit.

EarthRights identified the pair as FTI employees who claimed to work for website Western Wire, an offshoot of the Western Energy Alliance that represents the oil and gas industries.

The pair said they were working for website called Western Wire, an offshoot of the Western Energy Alliance, but didn't initially mention, until confronted later, that the site is funded by the oil and gas industry.

EarthRights said the pair were in reality strategic communications professionals employed by FTI Consulting and working for Western Wire under a staffing contract between FTI and WEA.

FTI called the allegation of deception "false and misleading" and referred to a Western Wire statement denying ever having hidden that it was pro-oil-industry.

According to the Huffington Post, FTI also appeared to have a hand in a campaign against an effort to unionize workers at Delta Airlines.

A website against signing a union contract at Delta was hosted on the same servers hosting FTI websites, according to Huffington Post.

"Our firm did not create the content referenced in that article, nor are we managing the campaign it appears to be associated with," FTI corporate communications director Matthew Bashalany said when asked whether the consulting firm had any connection to the anti-union campaign.