Western PR firms bid for Bahrain contract

Seven public relations firms – mostly British or American – are vying to win a contract from Bahrain's repressive government. 

Western PR companies have often been criticised in the past for taking up lucrative assignments aimed at polishing the kingdom's tarnished image. In Bahrain itself, they have also been denounced as "PR mercenaries" that charge hefty fees while failing to deliver positive results.

Bidders for the latest contract were named last week by the Bahrain Tender Board. They are:

Gulf Hill & Knowlton 
Bell Pottinger Bahrain 
Portland PR Ltd 
Consulum Bahrain 
Media Consult. 
Weber Shandwick 
Citigate Dewe Rogerson

Bahrain's government has not published details of the contract apart from saying that it involves PR services for the Economic Development Board (EDB). Bahrain Watch, the advocacy group that highlighted the bids in a blog post yesterday, says the EDB is "a governmental body responsible for attracting international investment to Bahrain, and re-branding the country as 'business-friendly'."

Three of the bidding companies – Bell PottingerHill & Knowlton and Weber Shandwick – have previously done PR work for Bahrain. 

Another of the bidders, Consulum, is a newer company set up by former Bell Pottinger employees based in the Gulf, according to Bahrain Watch. It has offices in London, Bahrain and Dubai and describes itself as "an international strategic communications consultancy that uses an in-depth understanding of public, commercial and political drivers to provide insightful strategic counsel and meet complex communications challenges". It claims to deliver "sophisticated communications programmes that shape awareness, guide opinion and enhance understanding on a national, regional and international basis".

Citigate Dewe Rogerson is a London-based firm which boasts of providing "seamless communication consultancy across the world’s business centres". It recently advised the British government on PR for the privatisation of Royal Mail

Portland PR Ltd is part of Portland Communications, a British firm founded by Tim Allan, a former adviser to Tony Blair. Portland's website says:

"Our Leadership Team has 40 years experience on Fleet Street and 35 years in Downing Street, as well as experience on The Hill. They know how Government, the media and business influence each other. And they know how successful campaigns work – because they have been there."

Last year Portland was accused of "improving" the Wikipedia entries for a number of its clients. This included deleting a reference to "Wife Beater" – the popular nickname in Britain for 
Stella Artois lager.

Finally, there is a bidder listed as "Media Consult". This may not be its full name and its identity at present is unclear.

For more background on western PR firms and Bahrain, here are some previous blog posts:

Posted by Brian Whitaker
Tuesday, 15 October 2013