Spotlight turns to Bechtel after winning Iraq contract

SAN FRANCISCO: As the assault on Saddam Hussein's regime came to an end, the government bestowed on Bechtel a choice contract to rebuild Iraq. Then the engineering and construction company faced its own assault.

SAN FRANCISCO: As the assault on Saddam Hussein's regime came to an end, the government bestowed on Bechtel a choice contract to rebuild Iraq. Then the engineering and construction company faced its own assault.

"We've been getting about 100 calls a day from the media since it was announced we won the contract [on April 17]," said manager of public affairs Michael Kidder. "That's held steady. We normally deal with about half a dozen calls."

The team of three media relations managers has expanded to nearly a dozen staff members, pulled in from different areas of the corporate communications team. The team now works seven-day schedules, and coordinates with offices in Washington, London, and China. Kidder also flew to Kuwait last week to coordinate communications efforts with the US Agency for International Development.

The company saw much of the media coverage question its political connections, and speculated about how the company won the bid. The media attention grew to the point where Bechtel responded with a lengthy statement refuting speculation that the company won the business because of its political ties.

What hopefully helped Bechtel win the contract, said Kidder, was getting communications a seat at the table from day one.

"When Bechtel was first approached about this, public affairs was at the table," said Kidder. "We set up a public affairs plan. We have friends in marketing and business development who make sure we are always a part of any such process. That way we have firsthand experience in these situations. And hopefully it helps, and contributes to the overall proposal.

"The officers and senior managers have always included us," he added. "I think the proof of our value is in the performance."

Kidder also credited his team, which must respond to events transpiring 11 time zones away.

"Everyone has risen to the cause," said Kidder. "They are taking call after call, and without them I'd be in a heap of trouble."

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