A protester holds a portrait of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during protests in July. (Shawkan / Demotix)
While the situation in Egypt is complex and unpredictable, there can be little doubt that General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his men are in charge of a country in deep crisis. On several occasions, they have handled this crisis with violent crackdowns that have attracted widespread, international condemnation. It appears they are now looking for some outside help to polish up their image as protectors of the state.
Industry publication AdAge reported last week that Egypt’s interim military government is seeking support from western public relations companies.
“The government (…) is in talks with a handful of firms that have strong public-affairs capabilities in the U.S. and Europe, and has issued at least one global RFP out of London, according to people familiar with the matter”, the publication said.
But with PR being a quickly growing industry, and a sea of options out there, it can be difficult to even know where to start browsing. Egypt, however, is not the first country to seek the help and guidance of western PR.
We have put together a list of companies that are not strangers to working for regimes with questionable human rights records.
London-based Bell Pottinger, once described as a ‘firm synonymous with this international spin’ has worked with everyone from Bahrain to Belarus, Sri Lanka and Yemen. But a word of advice, their services don’t come cheap. In 2012 it was reported that Bahrain’s royal family have spent £7.5 million on contracts with the firm. On the other hand, whereas American PR firms have to declare their dealings with foreign governments to American authorities, such regulations do not exist in the UK.
Where is the first place people go for information on a country, if not the world’s favourite user-generated encyclopedia? With Egypt’s current Wikipedia page not necessarily painting the military government in the best light, it’s helpful to know that Washington-based company Qorvis have reportedly helped clients like Saudi Arabia polish up theirs. For people seeking more in-depth knowledge, the firm has also been known to place favorable reports regarding their clients.
Mainstream media is one of the best ways to advertise your country as the new it-holiday destination or a booming business hotspot, or even get a policy point across. A PR firm can help you do that. London-based Ketchum was credited with placing Vladimir Putin’s much read recent New York Times op-ed on Syria. Could they make a ‘23 Ways You Know You Definitely Haven’t Staged A Coup’ Buzzfeed piece a reality?
Sometimes, it can be equally important to get stories removed from the media. In that case, Dragon Associates could be an alternative. They were credited with having a critical comment piece about their clients Bahrain removed from the Guardian website, ahead of the country’s controversial Formula One Grand Prix race.
There are also options outside the US and the UK – Azerbaijan’s government has worked with Berlin-based Consultum Communications. In 2011, a prestigious gala event in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Azerbaijan’s independence was held in the German capital. Attendees included former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and former Economics Minister Michael Glos – both board members of Consultum.
Then again, it might be nice to go for someone with historical ties to Egypt, like the PLM Group. The joint venture between the Podesta Group and Livingston Group in 2007 signed a deal with then-president Hosni Mubarak’s government to “provide general, high-level strategic advice relative to the Egyptian image among American decision-makers.”