WASHINGTON: The Lincoln Group, an intelligence and communications firm, has managed to keep a low profile, even after winning part of a $300 million Department of Defense contract in June 2005 for media planning and media-effects analysis services.
The firm was charged with improving pubic opinion abroad and assisting coalition forces with their Iraqi communications.
But on the heels of reports from multiple news outlets that the military was using the Lincoln Group to help plant stories in Iraqi newspapers, the firm has created the new role of director of media relations. Bill Dixon, who assumes the role, will be charged with telling more positive stories about the agency's work to a cynical press.
When asked if his hiring was based on negative external events, Dixon said, via e-mail, that it had more to do with the agency's growth than any other factors.
Paige Craig, EVP of strategic solutions, affirmed, "The team has grown large enough that it now makes sense to have someone to handle inquiries and let our other professionals remain focused on client service."
But Tucker Eskew, partner at ViaNovo and former global communications director for the George W. Bush administration, said promoting Lincoln Group to the media will prove difficult.
"Trying to place good stories about their work with deeply skeptical US journalists will take more than a fistful of dinars," Eskew said via e-mail. "Successfully repositioning this firm will require a new openness, some happy-warrior determination, and light-touch persistence [not] ham-fisted flackery."
Lincoln Group, which formed in 2003, was previously known as Iraqex. It currently maintains operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Pakistan, among other countries.
Dixon said his role within the organization was to "free the experts in place to concentrate on serving their clients and accomplishing their missions."
He added that he hoped he would be able to share good stories about Lincoln Group successes to the media, but will need to navigate a complex environment where much of Lincoln Group's work is confidential. As such, Dixon said he would not be able to promote all of the group's work.
"The nature of some of our work necessitates that the firm maintain client confidentiality and operate with discretion," Dixon said. "Talking is not the priority here and will never be allowed to become a distraction from the firm's focus on client service."
Wes Pedersen, director of communications and PR at the Public Affairs Council, said he expected Dixon's role to be reactive, rather than proactive.
"Bill Dixon's job isn't to make the press happy; it's to keep the press at bay. At its core, it's the same role as that of the public affairs officer at a sensitive government agency," Pedersen said via e-mail. "I assume that they have a top-secret contingency plan for dealing with the press if one of their projects blows wide open, but if I were in his position, I would do what the client wants: [provide] discretion and confidentiality."
At the time of the paid-placement controversy, a Lincoln spokesperson told PRWeek that the group was not commenting on existing contracts.
Dixon, who was previously SVP and director of media relations at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group and PR manager for Google, said he joined Lincoln Group because he believed in its mission.
"I share the firm's belief that deep cultural understanding, accompanied by active engagement in the marketplace of ideas, is the only way to achieve positive change," Dixon said.
For the full Q&A transcript, click here.