BELFAST: Northern Ireland's inward investment agency is reviewing its global PR strategy amid claims that Shandwick failed to adequately promote its $1.7 million tour of America last month.
The Belfast-based Industrial Development Board is weighing up whether to follow its US campaign with a worldwide effort to persuade overseas companies that the spring Peace Accord has transformed the province into an attractive and inexpensive European business location.
'As the recent tour demonstrates, we are clearly developing our work in North America which is Northern Ireland's main source of international investment,' said IDB's Brian Arlow. 'We will continue to keep our PR and advertising requirements under review.'
If the government-funded board selects one agency for a big global push, Shandwick will not be in the running.
The board became embroiled in a row with Shandwick over its handling of the 11-city Investment Roadshow, which took place last month and featured leading UK politicians including the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam, and the province's First and Deputy First Ministers David Trimble and Seamus Mallon.
It is understood that the government's Central Office of Information is withholding payment of a $510,000 fee - pending the completion of an independent evaluation of the campaign by London PR consultancy, Carma International.
Shandwick's chief executive Michael Petruzzello defended the agency against government officials' claims that it focused on a few elite business journalists and selected editorial boards to the exclusion of the general media.
The tour - which was masterminded by former Good Morning America reporter Richard Pollack, and Maureen Santini, previously a bureau chief with the Associated Press - was covered by The New York Post and The Boston Globe as well as TV stations in Chicago, Atlanta and Seattle.
'We have the documentation to prove that more than 80 stories were the direct result of Shandwick's work,' he said, adding that the company had yet to submit its final invoice.
A letter from government minister Adam Ingram, published in The Times of London last week said that he supported Shandwick's case and that he was happy with the work they had done.
But IDB insiders countered that Shandwick failed to arrange advance publicity.
'It was a disaster,' said one staff member. 'They didn't do what they were paid to do. We wouldn't dream of hiring them for anything in the future.'
Public Communications has been retained to publicize the opening of the IDB's new office in Boston. The board already has branches in Chicago, Atlanta and San Jose.