WASHINGTON: The US Central Command (Centcomm) has issued an RFP for strategic communications services in Iraq that could be worth up to $20 million over two years. The move marks one of the most significant PR contracts the military has offered since the beginning of the war in Iraq.
The RFP, which has a posted deadline of September 6, covers a wide range of communications work on behalf of the Multi-National Forces in Iraq. Work is scheduled to begin in October.
The Defense Department (DoD) issued a similar contract to The Rendon Group in September 2005. That one-year account, worth $6.4 million, also covered strategic communications in Iraq. Its upcoming expiration coincides with the start of the new contract.
Bryan Rich, Rendon's director of global strategy, said, "It would be inappropriate for us to comment" on whether the firm is pitching for the account again.
Major William Willhoite, a Centcomm spokesman, said that the military had no comment on the RFP. A call to the listed contracting officer was not answered.
The publicly available list of interested vendors in the contract doesn't include Rendon, but that isn't a sure indication the firm has declined to pitch the account.
Interestingly, the listed agencies include several with experience in various areas of government contracting, including construction, telecoms, and security, but at press time, there were no actual PR firms.
Nick Abid, the point of contact at Omnitec Solutions, a Maryland-based tech-services firm, said that his company was still deciding whether to pitch for the account.
"We're probably equally interested in teaming [with another firm]," he said, declining to say which one. "It's a big effort there."
According to the official statement of work for the project, the scope of the task includes: providing a "core team of creative thinkers, talented/educated communicators, and skilled professionals" to support the "Coalition media communications throughout Iraq" and the Mideast.
It went on to outline tasks, such as continuous media monitoring of "Iraqi, pan-Arabic, international, and US media" sources, along with assessments of the tone of coverage and effectiveness of Centcomm's messaging, research presentations to commanders, long-term strategic communications, development of media materials like print columns and press releases, media training for Multi-National Forces staff, Web site development, and Web-based news publications.
Wes Pedersen, a former communications director of the Public Affairs Council who now runs consultancy Wes Pedersen Communications, voiced concerns that the functions of the RFP may be redundant with communications activities already under way by the DoD and CIA. He also questioned whether negative perceptions of previous military communications efforts in Iraq would hamper the upcoming program.
"We've already done so much damage to America's reputation abroad through clumsy attempts at persuading people to endorse our policies that it will take years for any proactive PR initiative to take hold," he said via e-mail, referring to a December 2005 LA Times report that the US military was paying Iraqi papers to run undisclosed articles written by soldiers.
But Terry Holt, former spokesman for George Bush's 2004 presidential campaign who now heads Holt Strategies, said the contract, while difficult, is totally necessary.
"It's hard for the media to understand the necessity of PR by an entity like the Army," he said. "So you start at a disadvantage because the media doesn't like to think that there is a PR function to an operation like winning the war in Iraq. But winning any war requires PR."
Holt acknowledged, though, that the US suffers a "profound perception problem that needs to be overcome" in Iraq.
"It will [take] an awful lot of arms and legs," he added.