Controversial oil giant seeks agency

Texas-based oil exploration and engineering giant Halliburton is in search of a PR firm to boost its image in the Middle East.

Campaign understands the multinational, which has been rocked by corporate scandals both at home and abroad, has held pitch meetings with several PR companies, including Hill & Knowlton, Asda'a and Gambate.

Halliburton bosses are believed to be concerned that negative perceptions about close historical ties with the US administration and its involvement in Iraq are affecting its ability to win lucrative contracts in the Middle East.

A source close to the pitch said: "There are only three to five companies in the region that can do what Halliburton does, and they still make every contract shortlist, but they know that covertly they are being discriminated against in certain countries because of this perception that they are the Bush administration and that they are anti-Arab."

The pitch process, which is being overseen by Marc Edwards, regional vice president, Halliburton Energy Services Group, is expected to be concluded in the next few weeks.

Halliburton, which was previously headed by US vice president Dick Cheney, has faced criticism from pressure groups in the US, a number of employee whistleblowers and allegations of corruption.

The corporation has even come under fire from Osama Bin Laden, who singled out Halliburton for its role in reconstruction work in Iraq in an audiotape broadcast on Al Arabiya in 2004.

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