When London PR agencies last month received an email purporting to be from Libya's Ministry of Information, asking for PR support to improve the image of Muammar Gaddafi, many dismissed it as the work of a hoaxer.
'Even if we were interested, the anonymous nature of the email made me feel it was not worth following up,' said Nelson Bostock chairman Martin Bostock. 'It read to me like a spoof.'
Reflecting this scepticism, PRWeek also pondered the authenticity of the email on our diary page.
However, in a surprising twist, two weeks later an official at the Libyan Mission in New York has declared it to be legitimate.
Dia Abubaker Alhutmany said: 'The government is trying to gain the support of people outside the country.'
But is anyone interested in presenting the Libyan dictator's 'just and fair case to the world'?
Many recipients of the original email - which was sent to agencies in both London and New York - remain lukewarm about the new business opportunity.
'It's not something we would be interested in. If anyone does follow it up and makes a fortune, then good luck to them,' said Bostock.
FD managing director Jonathan Hawker described it as 'possibly the most unattractive request for business ever'.
Bell Pottinger CEO Kevin Murray also received the email, but said his agency had declined to pitch for the business.
A fourth source who received the email said: 'It was very weird - especially the way it described itself as being from the Mission for Peace.
'We just didn't respond to it. There's some work that you don't want to take whether it is authentic or not.
'This smacked of something funny and it just wasn't worth pursuing. In a lot of other cases things are not as black and white as the media want to portray and there's some work for the greater good, but this has nothing that could be def- ensible in any way.'
Yet not all agencies were quite so keen to discard the prospect of working for Gaddafi.
As PRWeek went to press, Burson-Marsteller, Edelman, Grayling, Hill & Knowlton, Porter Novelli and Weber Shandwick had not ruled out pursuing the business.*
HOW I SEE IT
Jonathan Hawker, MD, FD
Who would want to represent Gaddafi and his regime?
Even in this time of global economic concern, this is possibly the most unattractive request for business ever.
And if you did the work, under the UN Resolution, you might not even be able to get paid by Libya.
Ronn Torossian, President and CEO, 5W Public Relations
The fact of the matter is that in any war or high-profile dispute, a crisis PR company can assist.
But I would be amazed to hear if anyone takes this client during these times, regardless of the price.
BELOW IS AN EDITED VERSION OF THE EMAIL SENT TO PR AGENCIES:
My Name is Ali and I work for the "Mission for Peace" at the Ministry of Information in Libya. We are seeking to employ your PR company to present our just and fair case to the world.
Libya has been under an unjustified media and PR attack which led to NATO's military involvement since the 19th of March ... If we reach an agreement we will make sure it will be for the good of all Libyans and in accordance with the UN resolutions on Libya. We can formalise any deal with your organisation through a third party to help move things forward fast.
In particular, we need you to help us:
- Improve the image of the Libyan government in your country.
- Open direct communication channels to members of Parliament, party leaders and members of government.
- Create effective communication platforms for the members and leaders of the Libyan government.
- Create a counter balance to the PR and media activities of rebels and the allied forces.
- Organize off-the-record and on-the-record one-on-one meetings with opinion leaders of your media.
- Commissioning academic studies.
- Identifying and influencing existing and up-and-coming politicians, Opinion makers and academics that have shown a non-interventionist approach.
We are off (sic) course open to your ideas and proposals.
Ali Darwish, Mission for Peace, Ministry of Information.
1969 Year in which Gaddafi lead military coup against King Idris*
42 Number of years Libya has been under dictator Gaddafi's regime*
£529m Confiscated funds France is to transfer from regime to opposition**
300+ Inmates with alleged ties to Gaddafi escaped a Benghazi jail on 31 July***
Source: *BBC; **Reuters; ***Telegraph
*UPDATE: 9 AUGUST
Grayling has told PRWeek that it ruled out working for Gadaffi. A spokesman said the agency 'immediately declined the business by return e-mail'.
Weber Shandwick has also ruled out pursuing the business. European CEO Colin Byrne said: 'We did not get the email. Regardless we would not give it a second thought.'