March 31, 2004
Publicist Hired to Tell Iraqis of Democracy
ONDON, March 30 — The United States-led occupation in Iraq has enlisted a British public relations firm to help promote the establishment of democracy in the country.
The firm, Bell Pottinger, based in London, is creating television and radio commercials that will explain to Iraqis how and why the United States is handing over sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government in June. The campaign will begin next week on local and satellite stations in Iraq.
Bell Pottinger, a subsidiary of Chime Communications, has decades of political experience. The chairman, Lord Tim Bell, ran publicity campaigns for Margaret Thatcher.
Earlier this month, Bell Pottinger signed a $5.6 million contract with the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority. The company hopes to work for the United Nations after the June transition, in order to publicize Iraq's first democratic election.
The commercials will carry a "message of participation in the democratic process, and the hope for the future that democracy brings to Iraq," said the occupation's communications planner, Michael Pierson, in a telephone interview from Baghdad.
"We're trying to keep people informed about the process and persuade them to participate in it," Lord Bell said in a telephone interview. He declined to provide other details.
Some advertising experts said they were wary about the idea of using television spots to push political change and encourage the growth of democracy.
Learning about democracy through advertising could make it seem like a product that should be blamed or abandoned if things do not go well, said Harry C. Boyte, senior fellow at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
Others noted that early efforts to advertise in Iraq, particularly a 2001 campaign conducted by the former advertising executive Charlotte Beers, fell flat.
"I hope Bell Pottinger learns from the real fiasco that was Charlotte Beers' campaign," said a London Business School professor, Patrick Barwise. Bell Pottinger should be sure to ask basic questions, he said, including "Why are we here?" and "Why is there a problem?"