keeping an eye on the Kingdom's PR
Nature of Business: Public relations and lobbying
|Headquarters: 1201 Connecticut Ave, NW Suite 500, Washington, DC 20036 (map)|
|Fees and Expenses: $686,681|
Relationship with Bahrain Government
Qorvis is a major Washington DC PR firm that is now the government of Bahrain's lead PR representative in the US. It started its work for the Bahrain government after being subcontracted by British PR company Bell Pottinger in August 2010. Until the the start of Bahrain's Arab Spring protests in February 2011, Qorvis's work for Bahrain appears to have been limited to a handful of press releases and meetings. However this work suddenly gathered pace after February 2011, and in April 2011 Bahrain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed a new direct contract with Qorvis.
Under the terms of the new contract, the Bahrain government was to pay Qorvis a monthly fee of $40,000 per month plus reimbursement for a wide range of out of pocket expenses like transportation, meals, printing costs etc. Based on its disclosures in government documents, Qorvis's work involves:
- Press releases on PR Newswire (for example, trying to justify an armed raid by government forces on the premises of Doctors Without Borders)
- Placing Facebook ads
- Writing letters and opinion pieces to newspapers on behalf of Bahraini officials (or in the case of Tom Squitieri posing as journalists)
- Arranging for meetings in Washington between visiting Bahraini officials and American journalists, thinktanks and government officials. (Qorvis also put together a "youth delegation" to visit Washington).
- Protecting government members from negative media. When Houda Nonoo, Bahrain's Ambassador to Washington, gave an interview to the Washington Post in May 2012, a prerequsite was that "a representative from Qorvis ... had to be in the room" the whole time."
- Qorvis provided video coverage for the launch of the Bahrain government's Bahrain Press Club liaison office in Washington
It has also been alleged that Qorvis does "online reputation management" for the Bahraini government by using social media and creating blogs and websites to influence the narrative -- something that one former insider described as "black arts".
Qorvis is known to have created the following websites (& related social media accounts):
- BahrainFacts.org (registered 10 October 2011): This site mostly consists of Qorvis press releases presented as neutral "facts" and news stories.
- ExploreBahrain.org (registered 23 November 2011): This site, which appears to have been launched in May 2012, offers a more visually dynamic presentation of news stories about Bahraini culture, business, sports, environment and tourism. It also has an active Twitter account (@explore_bahrain) and Facebook page, as well as a YouTube channel.
- BahrainStories.com (registered 9 January 2012): Launched early in 2012, ahead of the 1-year anniversary of February 14th, Bahrain Stories presents itself as a interactive site encouraging inhabitants of Bahrain from multiple nationalities to submit a short personal narrative. The speakers are indeed genuine, however the site is clearly intended to paint a particular picture given the limited range of people - many of whom are in the creative industries - who contribute stories or are approached by Bahrain Stories. The site also has a very active Twitter account (@bahrainstories) and Facebook page.
Qorvis has also registered the domains InfoBahrain.org (on 26 July 2011), EntertainBahrain.com and ProsperBahrain.com (both on 12 December 2011), however these sites have not gone live. All the above websites were registered with GoDaddy.com, payments to which appear in Qorvis's FARA filings.
Despite all of the bad press, the government does not hide its relationship to Qorvis. In August 2011, Bahrain's state news agency proudly issued a press release about a meeting between Bahrain's Minister of Industry & Commerce and a Qorvis team led by John Reid, along with this photo:
Similarly, in July 2011, the Bahrain News Agency had a press release about a pro-government legislator in Bahrain who proudly wrote a letter to American NGOs, government officials and journalists clarifying the situation in the country. Number 55 on the list of recipients of that letter is the president of Qorvis!
Qorvis appears to have hired the services of C&O Resources, another Washington DC based consulting company, as a subcontractor for its Bahrain account. Qorvis's FARA filings show that C&O Resources has been charging a consulting fee of $5,000 per month starting in April 2011. The firm focuses on assisting Middle Eastern companies and governments do business with the United States, and was notably a member of the US-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement Coalition in 2004. The firm incidentally happens to be located at the same address as Qorvis's headquarters, however it seems there is some internal confusion over the nature of the relationship.
Fees and Expenses
$40,000 per month in consulting fees, though Qorvis declares only $39,976 in monthly earnings from this contract. Out of pocket expenses are billed separately (such as travel, production, printing, stock imagery, stock video footage, air and ground charges, accommodations and meals).
In the one year period between April 2011 and March 2012 Qorvis received $479,731 in consulting fees from Bahrain. There were also $206,950 in expenses over the same period, including $87,828 for travel and meals. In total, fees and expenses came to $686,681.
Date of Hiring
- Matt Lauer, partner and president of Qorvis GeoPolitical Solutions (@MattJLauer)
- John Reid, managing director for Middle East
- Seth Thomas Pietras, managing director (@stp)
- Erica Flint, senior associate
- Aaron Estabrook, associate
- Stefan Nagey, managing director and president of Qorvis Digital
- Jill Grozalsky, associate
- US Dept of Justice: FARA Exhibit AB to Registration Statement, Aug 6, 2010 (Bell Pottinger subcontract)
- US Dept of Justice: FARA Supplemental Statement (period: Apr 2010 to Sep 2010), Oct 11, 2010 (Bell Pottinger subcontract)
- US Dept of Justice: FARA Supplemental Statement (period: Oct 2010 to Mar 2011), Jun 1, 2011
- US Dept of Justice: FARA Exhibit AB to Registration Statement, Aug 4, 2011
- US Dept of Justice: FARA Supplemental Statement (period: May 2011 to Oct 2011), Dec 1, 2011
- US Dept of Justice: FARA Supplemental Statement (period: Oct 2011 to Mar 2012), Jun 5, 2012
- Huffington Post: Lobbyists Jump Ship In Wake Of Mideast Unrest, Mar 25, 2011
- Huffington Post: PR Mercenaries, Their Dictator Masters, and the Human Rights Stain, May 19, 2011
- New York Times: Relief Group Stops Work in Bahrain After Raid, Aug 5, 2011
- Salon.com: D.C. firm inks lucrative public-relations contract with Bahrain, Aug 9, 2011
- ArabianBusiness.com: Bahrain calls in Washington PR firm to tackle backlash, Aug 9, 2011
- Bahrain News Agency: Industry and Commerce Minister Receives Qorvis Communications Officials, Aug 23, 2011
- Brian Whitaker's blog: Spinning Bahrain, the Qorvis way, Sep 11, 2011
- TIME: Disappearing Dissent: How Bahrain Buried Its Revolution, Nov 29, 2011
- Salon.com: How Bahrain works Washington, Dec 8, 2011
- Brian Whitaker's blog: Qorvis and Bahrain, Dec 10, 2011
- ProPublica: Bahraini 'Reformers' in Washington, Courtesy of American Spinmeisters, Feb 28, 2012
- Brian Whitaker's blog: Bahrain: a busy time for Qorvis, Feb 29, 2012