Dieter Loraine: In the face of unfriendly fire

The ex-Royal Marine and MD of Albany Associates talks to John Owens about PR in war-torn countries.

In the firing line: Dieter Loraine
In the firing line: Dieter Loraine

Media types who consider the Government's stance on Leveson to be gun-to-the-head diplomacy would do well to note the following.

'The Serbian TV station had been putting out hate speech, so Nato decided to put a tank outside its offices,' recalls Albany Associates' Dieter Loraine. 'It was media regulation of the more extreme kind,' he deadpans.

If anyone has a broad perspective on the role of the press, it's the 53-year-old conflict specialist. Setting up media frameworks in the more extreme parts of the world - think post-war Bosnia and post-invasion Iraq - has translated into a client list that now boasts the UN and the US Department of Defense.

Albany's reach belies its faceless offices in west London and extends to places such as Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, where any form of media regulation would be considered a luxury.

The agency's co-founder, who, for the record, thinks Leveson will lead to a better system but paid too little attention to new and social media, is not a man averse to travel. Or risk.

Having joined the Royal Marines aged just 16, he was among the first to land on the Falkland Islands in 1982.

'We were marching when all hell broke loose. We were pinned down for hours under enemy fire before we charged over the top. That was the most dangerous moment in my life.'

The experience lends helpful perspective when standard preparations for client work include body armour and safety training.

Loraine stresses his agency, which consists of a small core team and a far reaching international network, does not take risks with the lives of its staff. And although the purpose of the work is often serious, it does not mean lighthearted methods are out of the question.

Take, for example, a brief with the UK's Department for International Development to help spread word of the Darfur Peace agreement in Sudan. Albany organised street theatre and arranged horse races at which people spoke on the sidelines about the agreement.

A focus on 'understanding the information ecology of the people we're working with' means that many of the staff running projects on the ground are from the country itself.

After switching to PR while in the marines and a stint co-running an agency in Plymouth, Loraine was asked by his former marines PR boss Simon Haselock to help set up press regulation in Bosnia.

'We were talking to journalists who not long beforehand had been shooting at each other. It needed all of my skills of mediation and negotiation,' says Loraine.

Dunja Mijatovic worked with Loraine at the time. Mijatovic, now representative on freedom of the media at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, says: 'Dieter has the best sense of humour of anyone I have ever met and can make people laugh and relax even in difficult situations.'

Following Bosnia, it was off to Iraq with Haselock for a similar role before the pair set up Albany in 2004. Now Loraine oversees management, while Haselock deals with the hands-on work.

Not that it was all smooth running initially. Their first foray was in Kosovo, which wanted to prove it had what it took to be an independent country.

The contract was with the then prime minister and president. Not long into the brief PM Ramush Haradinaj was indicted for war crimes and the president Ibrahim Rugova contracted a terminal illness, which resulted in a new government and loss of the work.

Though Haradinaj was acquitted, Loraine admits the experience was 'a massive lesson'. This translated to moving away from working with potentially unstable governments and towards institutions such as the UN, which gave the agency a major contract in war-torn Somalia.

When asked whether the suffering he encounters in his job affects him, the tone shifts. 'We've worked in difficult places where people are suffering humanitarian crises and I am not immune to that by any stretch,' he says.

'We're not there to alleviate suffering - that's done by humanitarian organisations. But we do play our part in bringing stability to countries through communication. That is something that should not be underestimated.'

And whether that is helping African Union forces battle militant Islamists, or putting on a street play, it certainly should not.

CV

2004 Co-founder and managing director, Albany Associates

2003 Consultant on media and comms regulation in Iraq

2001 Director of comms, Communications Regulatory Agency, Bosnia and Herzegovina

1998 Head of public affairs, Independent Media Commission, Bosnia and Herzegovina

1995 Co-founder, PR South West

1975-95 Royal Marine

TIPS FROM THE TOP

What was your biggest career break?

Volunteering and being accepted for a PR role for the Royal Marines in the Ministry of Defence, which then catapulted me into the world of comms - a world apart from being a career soldier. I spent four years in the team and it set me up well for leaving the marines with the comms skills and experience I needed, and the confidence to set up my own PR firm.

Have you had a notable mentor?

I've worked with some fantastic people in both my military and civilian careers. I've never really had a mentor as such but, since leaving the marines, two people have positively influenced my career in comms. Firstly Lord Guy Black, former director of comms for the Conservative Party. Secondly, Krister Thelin, my former boss at the Independent Media Commission in Sarajevo. My chairman Sir Rob Fry is also very supportive in my role as Albany's MD.

What advice would you give to people climbing the career ladder?

Take your time and don't rush to climb it. We are in the relationships business, so get on with people.

What qualities do you look for in new recruits?

Energy, loyalty and good comms skills.

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