EADS works with H&K amid USAF contract row

WASHINGTON: EADS North America recently hired Hill & Knowlton as strategic AOR, shortly before the defense contractor was awarded a $35 billion US Air Force (USAF) contract that archrival Boeing is aggressively contesting.

WASHINGTON: EADS North America recently hired Hill & Knowlton as strategic AOR, shortly before the defense contractor was awarded a $35 billion US Air Force (USAF) contract that archrival Boeing is aggressively contesting.

Terms of the deal and selection process were undisclosed. H&K SVP John Ullyot said the work entails providing all types of PR support for EADS' two main products: the USAF refueling tanker and a helicopter being acquired by the US Army.

H&K's work is currently focusing on the refueling tanker, for which Northrop Grumman will serve as the prime contractor. Northrop recently hired Public Strategies to assist with communications, with former White House communications counsel Dan Bartlett leading the account.

Ullyot said the Northrop-EADS team is emphasizing in its communications with media, members of Congress, and other influential audiences that the USAF decision-making process was fair. It is also noting that EADS planes - like Boeing's - will be largely made in the US, despite protectionist rhetoric by labor unions and Congressional supporters of Boeing.

"The key message is that both planes are built in North America, but both [also] have foreign components," Ullyot said.

Bill Barksdale, Boeing's tanker communications manager, declined to discuss his company's outreach strategy or tactics, but he did note that Boeing has never argued it deserves the award simply because it is a US-based company. Rather, in its appeal to the Government Accountability Office, Boeing claims its product is superior and that the selection process was flawed.

Boeing was originally awarded the tanker contract in 2003, then lost it after the company's then-CFO was discovered to have arranged a job at the company for the USAF's top contracting official. The scandal led to jail time for those individuals, and the resignation of Boeing's CEO.

"We've always been very consistent in telling our story," said Barksdale, "despite things that happened in the past."

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