The Economist (July 29-Aug. 4 issue) offers the latest slap at the PR profession, featuring a profile of Bell Pottinger’s sleazy campaign on behalf of the South Africa Gupta family, “a trio of Indian businessmen brothers who are chummy with the president [Jacob Zuma], to bolster their image,” according to the magazine.
A report showed that emails from the British PR firm proposed to push the idea that criticism of Zuma and the Gupta family “was intended to perpetuate ‘economic apartheid,’ an incendiary claim in South Africa,” noted the magazine.
“Spinning for African governments is lucrative but risky work,” is subhead to the piece called “For whom Bell Pottinger toils.”
The Economist helpfully explains that BP, which remains under fire by critics, broke the first rule of PR, which is to not become the story.
Using BP as a jumping off point, The Economist states: “Western firms have long offered help to shady leaders wanting to gild their reputation overseas. Increasingly, however, they are being drafted to run domestic political campaigns too-spreading deft propaganda via social media.”
BP’s work in South Africa was beyond the pale. The firm has apologized and fired a key staffer involved in the work.
The Economist article avoids mentioning the good that PR does in Africa in promoting economic development or democracy. Its haughty tone implies that people in the developed world of the west are far too sophisticated to fall for PR spin. That’s a crock.
The New York and London firms doing the spinning in Africa, learned their dark arts via campaigns in the US and Europe.
Cambridge Analytica, for instance, is working on the presidential campaign in Kenya after helping put Donald Trump in the White House.
Also on the home front, Qatar is hiring any PR firm with a pulse to lobby Washington on its behalf in its battle to combat sanctions imposed by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
Qatar’s hiring of Avenue Strategies to a whopping $1.8M contract may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Avenue is a Trump-connected firm founded by Corey Lewandowski, President Trump’s former campaign, and Barry Bennett, Ben Carson’s campaign chief and senior Trump advisor. The firm is hardly an expert on the opaque political goings-on in the Middle East?
The US lobbying/PA game would provide a lot of grist for The Economist.
All PR snake oil isn’t exported to Africa. A lot of it is sold here.