Sounding like Captain Renault of “Casablanca” movie fame, the British media are “shocked, shocked” that Bell Pottinger executives boast about access to the government of Prime Minister David Cameron.
The media know better, or at least they should.
Access is the grease that turns the wheels of the PA/government relations game. Bell Pottinger clients, such as Sri Lanka, Bahrain, Palestine Liberation Organization, Yemen and Belarus, would deservedly be “shocked, shocked,” if the firm of Lord Bell, one-time media adviser to Margaret Thatcher, did not have close ties to Britain’s Conservative Party.
The row over access stems from a “sting” operation conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and published by the Independent. A tip of the hat to both of them.
Bell Pottinger Public Affairs managing director Tim Collins allegedly said his firm got Cameron to raise a copyright infringement issue with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao on behalf of client, Dyson, the engineering firm. That's what firms do.
Predictably, the egg-faced Cameron government denied that “Bell Pottinger nor any other lobbying firm has any say or influence over government policy.” Take that with a more than a handful of salt.
The creative geniuses at BIJ posed as agents of the brutal Government of Uzbekistan and asked BP whether it would handle the account. To its credit, BP allegedly said, “sure, for a fee of $1.5M.” Four of the other ten firms contacted by BIJ were ready to go to bat for the Uzbeks. The other firms either weaseled out, or failed to respond to the pitch.
Bell, though a self-described “great supporter of a free press and self-regulation” filed a gripe with the Press Complaints Commission about the Independent. Instead, he should have embraced the results of the sting to trumpet the BP's belief that PR can accelerate reform in even the most notorious regime.
That was the philosophy of my good friend, the late Ed Von Kloberg, who referred to his clients as “the damned.” That roster included Saddam Hussein, who gassed Iraq’s Kurds during his country’s bloody war with Iran prior to the Persian Gulf War; Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu, whom Eddie lost once and for all as a client after he was executed by a firing squad in 1989, and the once bloodthirsty Burma junta, which is now cozying up to the Obama Administration.
Eddie was the subject of a sting operation organized by Spy Magazine. A purported member of a pro-Nazi group pitched Von Kloberg on Germany’s need to annex Poland. Von Kloberg bit and Spy published the piece as “Washington’s Most Shameless Lobbyist.” Von Kloberg’s reaction: he marched to Spy’s headquarters doffed in a helmut and telling all that he stands ready to “take the flak.” Eddie then used the Spy article as a promotional piece.
The flamboyant Von Kloberg, whose motto was “shame is for sissies,” spent the last years of his PA career trying to restore the luster of Europe's royal families. He committed suicide in 2005, jumping from the ramparts of Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo.
That was a black day for the world of PA/lobbying, but it was pure Von Kloberg.