By Ronn Torossian
Owning 5WPR, one of the 25 largest US PR Firms, I am never amazed at the inquiries which we receive. Having worked for Lebanese (Anti-Syrian) interests, Moroccan Tourism Ministry, Iraqex to manage American interests in Iraq, and other Middle East concerns, over the past few months, we have received discrete contacts from official and unofficial government liaisons concerned about managing, influencing (and manipulating) media coverage.
This increased volume of confidential inquiries made me wonder which public relations firms are making millions working for Anti-Western interests as radical Islam spreads throughout the Middle East.
It wouldn’t shock me if one of my peers of competitors is working with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he arrives in New York this weekend to an avalanche of press coverage.
Ahmadinejad has shown he understands the power of the press, and my experience tells me it is surprising to have that level of understanding of media without advisors. I wonder who is assisting Syrian President Bashar Assad this time around as he remains in power in the bloodiest battle the war has seen in years.
In America, all public relations entities who represent foreign governments, political parties and government-controlled entities in a “political or quasi-political capacity” are required to disclose their clients due to FARA Laws (Foreign Agent Registration Act).
But if the reporting is done to a 3rd party, or a non government entity is paying the bills the laws are less clear. Many PR interests are multi-national corporations who skirt disclosure issues via International contracts – and throughout Europe there are no regulations for PR firms.
In time, we will find out there are many Anti-West interests who are using PR Agencies during these trying times. Many of the political Islam leaders, from the government of Egypt which is now controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood to the ongoing slaughter and bloody battles in Syria, Libya (where the American Ambassador was recently killed), and the ongoing human rights abuses in Bahrain – sophisticated interests are undoubtedly managing media coverage.
Public Relations firms draft speeches, prepare leaders for interviews, draft and place articles in newspapers, introduce journalists to members of government and organize trips. And PR firms work to try and stop negative stories from running (or soften them if they do). Whether utilizing lawyers to put pressure, pulling favors or other tactics PR agencies make a difference – and Arab oil money can buy a lot of focus.
There are many firms who should be asked what they are doing to harm Western interests. Bell Pottinger who has worked for Bahrain (a nation which has spent $32 million on US and UK PR agencies since February 2011), Harbour Group, a Washington D.C. firm working with the new Libyan government, Patton Boggs who previously worked for Gadhafi and has recruited , prominent American academics to praise the Libyan government are prime candidates. International PR firm Brown Lloyd James worked for Assad and Gadhafi in the past – and they like the other cast of questionable characters won’t comment on their current clients.
The PR industry is a small, tight knit industry and it isn’t easy for me to write about this sensitive issue. Dictators and Middle Eastern governments pays well – but sleeping well at night and doing the right thing should be more important to the public relations industry.
Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a Top 25 US PR Agency