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The Regionnaire-Burson-Marsteller Axis

The Regionnaires must be getting desperate. When the vast majority of Ukraine’s population thinks of you as thugs, crooks, and vandals a few months before an election you can’t possibly win, there’s only one thing to do. No, not go straight, silly.

You go to Burson-Marsteller, of course, a self-styled “leading global public relations and communications firm” that has a special relationship with the world’s rogues. You pay B-M a ton of money and you hope they can remove your stench.

Andrew Rettman of the EUobserver broke the story on April 27th:

Robert Mack, a senior manager at Burson-Marsteller, told EUobserver: “Our brief is to help the Party of Regions communicate its activities as the governing party of Ukraine, as well as to help it explain better its position on the Yulia Tymoshenko case.” One of his staff said it was hired “several weeks ago.”

(Tip to Mr. Mack: a political party isn’t supposed to have a “position” on what the Yanukovych regime insists is a case for independent courts, but no matter.)

Here’s how the firm describes its mission:

Clients often engage Burson-Marsteller when the stakes are high: during a crisis, a brand launch or any period of fundamental change or transition. They come to us needing sophisticated communications campaigns built on knowledge, research and industry insights. Most of all, clients come to us for our proven ability to communicate effectively with their most critical audiences and stakeholders.

The Regionnaires are the latest in a long list of clients reaching out to B-M “when the stakes are high.” According to the Guardian:

Burson-Marsteller is the company that governments with poor human rights records and corporations in trouble with environmentalists have turned to when in crisis. The world's biggest PR company was employed by the Nigerian government to discredit reports of genocide during the Biafran war, the Argentinian junta after the disappearance of 35,000 civilians, and the Indonesian government after the massacres in East Timor. It also worked to improve the image of the late Romanian president Nicolae Ceausescu and the Saudi royal family. Its corporate clients have included the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, which suffered a partial meltdown in 1979, Union Carbide after the Bhopal gas leak killed up to 15,000 people in India, BP after the sinking of the Torrey Canyon oil tanker in 1967 and the British government after BSE emerged. In the past few years it has acted for big tobacco companies and the European biotechnology industry to challenge the green lobby and counter Greenpeace arguments on GM food.

Nice company the Regionnaires are keeping, eh? But here’s the good news. First, at least the Regionnaires appear to understand that they’re rogues. From self-knowledge may come, well, something. Second, and more important, Burson-Marsteller may praise itself as much as it likes, but does anyone have any doubts about the villainy of the Nigerian, Indonesian, and Saudi governments, as well as the Argentine junta and Nicolae Ceausescu? Of course not. Which goes to show that, despite its hefty fees and inflated claims, B-M is a bust.

And then consider the enormity of the task before B-M. The Nigerian and Indonesian governments could claim to be defending the integrity of their countries. Saudi Arabia could say it’s the linchpin of Middle Eastern stability. The junta could insist it was saving Argentina from the evils of communism. Ceausescu could plausibly argue to have guaranteed Romania’s independence from the Soviet Union. What can the Regionnaires declare as an achievement? Their domestic policy is a wreck, and their foreign policy is a shambles. They’re endangering Ukraine’s integrity, promoting left- and right-wing extremism, and undermining the country’s independence. True, the Yanukovych Family has amassed a fortune, but that’s hardly likely to figure at the top of Burson-Marsteller’s PR campaign.

I pity Mr. Mack. He has to present the mafia as Greenpeace and Al Capone as Mother Theresa. Like finding the square root of -1, it can’t be done, no matter how much you get paid and how much you strain the truth.

Oh, by the way, Burson-Marsteller claims to have what its website calls “values.” As you read this section, try not to laugh too hard:

Honesty

  • We undertake to be honest in all our professional dealings, including all external professional contacts. We undertake never knowingly to spread false or misleading information and to take reasonable care to avoid doing so inadvertently.
  • We also ask our clients to be honest with us and to never request that we compromise our principles or the law.
  • We take every possible step to avoid conflicts of interest.

Integrity

  • We will only work for organisations that are prepared to uphold the values of transparency and honesty in the course of our work for them.
  • Our clients are involved with some of the most contentious issues of the day. It is part of our job to provide communications assistance to those clients. We undertake to represent those clients only in ways consistent with the values of honesty and transparency both in what they do and in what we do for them.
  • We respect the views of employees who have serious concerns about working for any specific client or on any particular assignment. No employee will be required to work for a client inconsistent with his/ her conscience. We will consider our employees views in the Firm’s decision to work on a particular client.

Still laughing? Stop and appreciate the seriousness of the moment. B-M wiz Robert Mack has donned his thinking cap and, with Regionnaire enforcers watching, is about to start sweating bullets. Not to worry, Bob: just blame your failure to square the circle on Yulia Tymoshenko. But do so with honesty and integrity, please.

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