by Ronn Torossian
Although high profile, the U.S. Public Relations industry is a relatively small close knit community. Only about 75 American PR firms have more than 50 employees, which would present enough scope, influence and capacity to represent a foreign government. Over lunch recently, one of my peers, who like me, owns 1 of the 25 largest PR Agencies in the United States explained why his firm would no longer take on Jewish organizations and Pro-Israel concerns as clients. He explained that there is simply too much money in working for Arab organizations and interests, including from front groups, and business projects. It’s a trend which I believe will grow – and we will see Arab agendas even more positively portrayed in American media.
Recently it emerged that Bahrain has hired at least ten public relations companies in the last 12 months. Yes, you read it right, 10, including Qorvis, the Washington based company hired by Saudi Arabia to salvage the kingdom’s reputation abroad following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The regime of Bahrain, which tortures its own citizens has an awful human rights record and doesn’t recognize the state of Israel, also hired Joe Trippi, former campaign manager for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid and Sanitas International, among whose partners is Christopher Harvin, a former Bush White House aide.
In the “new” Middle East much has changed – but hostility towards Israel remains a constant, and millions are spent to forward Arab positions through professional public relations campaigns:
- Harbour Group, a Washington D.C. based lobbying firm has been hired by the new Libyan Government, as The Hill recently revealed Harbour recently signed a new $15,000 a month contract with the Libyan Embassy. Patton Boggs, another large K street lobbying group is also now representing the new Libyan regime. Previously they worked with Gaddafi, alongside the Cambridge, Massachusetts based Monitor Group which held a hefty $250,000 a month contract with Tripoli, recruiting prominent American academics to praise the Libyan government.
- This is nothing new in the Middle East – Arab governments spend lots of money on public relations. The Syrian regime continues to butcher thousands of their own people in the streets – and relatively, much is missing from the reporting of mainstream media outlets (one of the things a good crisis PR agency is hired for, is to ensure that negative stories don’t make it to press.) One day we will read about who is working for Syria now. A few months ago hackers released hundreds of e-mails from Syrian President Assad’s office, which revealed a document preparing Assad for his December 2011 interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters.
- The glowing profile and stunning full-page picture of Asma al-Assad, Syria’s First Lady which appeared in Vogue magazine’s February 2011 edition entitled: “Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert” was quietly removed from Vogue’s website. Vogue wouldn’t comment on why the story was removed – but the article which described her as “glamorous, young, and very chic – the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies,” ran at the same time that the Syrian government was butchering anti-regime protesters. PR firm, Brown Lloyd James worked for Syria to arrange the story.
- This same company, Brown Lloyd James, worked in the past to boost the regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi. They said, “…we assisted the Libyan government in its efforts to reach out to the international political community through the United Nations and to the U.S. political and university community.”
- Terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah have also hired PR agencies to lobby for them in the press and on in other arenas. Terror groups engage reporters and journalists, share meals and drinks with them and win their favor.
- Fenton Communications, a New York City–based PR firm works with the Arab state of Qatar in developing campaigns, essentially aimed at delegitimizing Israel by orchestrating international anti-Israel efforts directed towards breaking the security blockade of the Gaza Strip. Fenton Communications also works for “Al Fakhoora,” a Qatar-based pro-Palestinian initiative that aims “to file legal charges against Israel and change the public perception in the West about its actions.” In April 2012 web designer Tim Hobert wrote about working with Fenton Communications on the “campaign to help end the blockade in Gaza.” They continue to assist terror groups openly.
- Last year, the PLO Mission in the U.S hired Bell Pottinger, a leading International PR agency to provide “advice on strategic communications, public relations, media relations and congressional affairs.”
- In response to Israel’s request for a meeting, U.S. based PR giant Burson–Marsteller said: “We will not deliver tender to such a project… we are running a commercial venture. If we accept this project, this will create a great amount of negative reactions…Israel is a particularly controversial project.”
There’s a reason the Arabs win in the media — they hire communications professionals – they prioritize and spend money to address the issue, and sadly if this remains the case, they will continue to win. In the Middle East, slaughtering of innocent people continues – from Bahrain to Syria, and Public Relations pros assist them in continuing to sell their stories.
I was saddened when my peer explained to me why his agency would no longer accept work for Jewish or Israeli interests – and while 5WPR wouldn’t work for the barbarians who slaughter innocent people, our competitors make millions selling terror and brutality.Ronn Torossian is the Founder & CEO of New York-based 5W Public Relations, 1 of the 25 largest U.S. PR firms. He has overseen the growth and expansion of the PR agency to the Inc. 500 list.
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