Key partners quit Qorvis during time of controversy over Saudi work

WASHINGTON: Last week, Qorvis Communications said good-bye to three founding partners, welcomed two aboard, dodged accusations from congressmen, and launched a revamped international campaign for its most infamous client, Saudi Arabia.

WASHINGTON: Last week, Qorvis Communications said good-bye to three founding partners, welcomed two aboard, dodged accusations from congressmen, and launched a revamped international campaign for its most infamous client, Saudi Arabia.

Judy Smith, Jim Weber, and Bernie Merritt left the two-year-old agency they helped found and went to Omnicom's Clark & Weinstock (C&W). There, the trio will augment the consultancy's grassroots capabilities.

Merrit cited the offer of "a great opportunity" at C&W as the reason for the move, but added, "(Saudi Arabia) is a very dominating client, and we don't want to be only in that public affairs space."

Filling their shoes will be Michael Tucker and Curtis Robinson from Direct Impact, Burson-Marsteller's grassroots advocacy group. Qorvis president Michael Petruzzello described the shift as a positive change for the agency, saying that the duo would "help take our grassroots business to the next level."

Meanwhile, Congress renewed its demands that the agency hand over documents related to an investigation involving missing American children in Saudi Arabia. Petruzzello refused, citing diplomatic privilege - something members of Congress angrily insisted did not apply.

Also, hit with accusations in the past few weeks that a Saudi princess helped fund the September 11 hijackers, the Saudis have stepped up the campaign they've been waging since the days after the 2001 attacks.

"This signals a targeted shift," said Petruzzello. "The Saudis are becoming much more transparent. They're beginning to realize that there is a cost to not communicating."

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