Millennial Letters

Bahrain's PR Firm

This popped up on Twitter in response to Millennial Letters’ recent interview with Ali, a young student active in the anti-government uprising in Bahrain:

Not unfair, no. So the reader and I got in touch, rather publicly (it is Twitter, after all)—a conversation that immediately prompted the following:

Well, Gloria says she doesn’t work for the DC-based public relations firm Qorvis,which represents the kingdom of Bahrain.* But the exchange raised the question: why, exactly, do governments use PR firms, and how? 

Besides serving the needs of the small Gulf kingdom, a US ally, Qorvis boasts quite the colorful line-up of clients: the US Institute of Peace, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Disney on Ice, the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq, and so on. What happens when their clients’ communications interests conflict? One envisions conversations like: “Hey Joe, can you change your line on the Saudis? It’s messing up what I’ve got going on with Bahrain.”

That’s not what I heard when I called them up, though.

“Basically, we service their back-end support group,” Qorvis’ Matt Lauer told me when I asked him to detail the working relationship with Bahrain’s monarchy. Huh?

He was referring to the kingdom’s Washington embassy, which he described as “small,” explaining that they “utilize our services to expand on their footprint, if you will.” Expand on their footprint? Yeah, like, “developing an invitation list” for embassy dinners, Lauer said. How boring. No actual work on the ground in Bahrain? There was a pause.

“We’ll take pictures,” Lauer said, “we’ll take video of positive information going on in Bahrain and utilize that material in everything from, you know, brochures to anything else for Bahrain.”

And how’s business been since the unrest? Seems the king might be needing a bit more, you know, PR help. Lauer, however, claimed work “hasn’t increased since the uprisings.”

“But you know, one of the things we do try to do, is we do work with the Bahrainis to try and help them communicate what they’re doing in terms of the national dialogue and in terms of some of the reforms that are under way,” he said, declining to elaborate further. He did say Qorvis helped with a critical Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report documenting systematic rights violations by the authorities during the protests and laying out key reforms (which still haven’t been implemented, Human Rights Watch recently pointed out).

The report, as Lauer would have it, “looked at how there was challenges that occurred on both sides of society during the uprising.” Lauer said the firm works “to publicize those types of [reform] steps that are being made.”

In other words, the firm seeks to offset more critical reports, such as a November 2ndstory in the Washington Post headlined “In Bahrain, anti-government violence rising again amid calls for more forceful U.S. policy.” No doubt it is also busy monitoring the press coverage of two bomb attacks that rocked the volatile nation today.

And who knows what else they do. “There’s a lot of rumors on the Twitter that there’s all sorts of interesting things that we do for Bahrain,” Lauer made a point of saying. “But Bahrain is a traditional client, like any of our other public relations’ clients at Qorvis,” he said, describing the kingdom’s contract with the firm as “average” in comparison with other clients.

Next up on Millennial Letters—provided Twitter continues to deliver—a conversation with a young Bahraini with a totally different viewpoint on developments there.

* Qorvis has registered to represent Bahrain with the US Department of Justice, in accordance with US law. See the obligatory filing and contract here. 


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