ANALYSIS: Foreign PR - Gadaffi looks to PR to sell Libya to the West. The Libyan Government has struggled to find an international PR network willing to promote Gadaffi’s regime

These days Colonel Muammar Gadaffi prefers to be photographed wearing a kaftan than the full military regalia and mirror shades of old.

These days Colonel Muammar Gadaffi prefers to be photographed

wearing a kaftan than the full military regalia and mirror shades of


One of the leaders most reviled by the West, Gadaffi now enjoys the

public support of one of our most respected political figures, Nelson


He is leaving behind his days as a fiery revolutionary and beginning to

settle into the role of the elder statesman.

He is building bridges with the West and the Libyan government wants to

capitalise on the detente with the UK and the UN by spinning some

positive coverage for Gadaffi’s regime, but finding a PR agency willing

to take on the work has proved a little difficult.

International Public Relations (IPR), a Dubai-based agency affiliated to

Shandwick, was approached by the Libyans to take on the task of

publicising a special meeting of the Organisation of African Unity - the

African equivalent of the G8 group of nations - in Libya next month.

When bidding for the business IPR, which has not been hired for the

work, decided it needed the help of an international network, and sought

an agency prepared to take the work on. In all, PR Week has found five

UK agencies and one US outfit which were approached. Most of them

declined to be named and none of them took on the work.

Apparently, Strategic Profile International (SPI), a UK public affairs

outfit which specialises in profiling developing countries and already

runs the British Libyan Business Group’s secretariat, is the only agency

happy to have Libya as a client. SPI, in a separate initiative to the

one IPR was approached for, is organising a parliamentary delegation to

coincide with the 30th anniversary of the revolution which brought

Gadaffi to power.

But Nick Archer, UK public affairs director at Edelman PR Worldwide,

which has just turned away the Indonesian government, asks: ’With an

image that dented, can you do anything with it?’

Ian Lindsley, director and UK head of Burson-Marsteller’s public affairs

brand BKSH, says there is only so much PR can achieve, and that Libya

needs to make big changes, such as introducing democratic reforms,

before the spin doctors can start work.

B-M is not averse to representing foreign governments per se. Indeed,

among those the agency has worked for are Chile and Bahrain. ’But,’

Lindsley says, ’the thing with Libya is that it is so beyond the pale.

The question in lobbying ten years ago was whether you worked for South

Africa. Now it’s Libya and Nigeria. For the pariahs of the world, PR

isn’t going to help them in the short term. Any PR agency which thinks

it can is kidding itself.’

For a US agency, accepting the work would have meant breaking the law,

as trade with Libya is still banned in the US.

Hill and Knowlton’s UK business was one of those which turned Libya


H&K accepted work from the government of Angola, during the civil war in

the mid-1980s and early-1990s, Turkey and Brazil in the mid-1990s and

Zambia last year. But Edward Bickham, deputy chairman and MD of

corporate and public affairs at H&K, says he was reluctant to get

involved with Libya before the conclusion of the Lockerbie trial, which

is unlikely to begin before the first quarter of next year.

Bickham believes PR can help Libya, but adds that it is a huge task.

’Libya has an awfully long way to go, a long period of maverick

behaviour to live down.’

Ian Rumgay, Shandwick international client services director, says it is

difficult to categorically state which regimes his company should or

should not work for, and that much depends on what the agency is being

asked to do, or defend.

Rumgay recommends applying the test set down by the Advertising

Standards Authority - is what you are being asked to do legal, decent,

honest and truthful? Clients Shandwick has worked for include the Royal

Cambodian government, Brunei, the Philippines, Cyprus, Tunisia and the


But SPI account executive Marcus Courage goes further, thoroughly

rejecting the concept of pariah nations, and saying that grass roots

contacts continue even when nations are not officially dealing with each


SPI has presented Libya with a long-term image-building plan, and has

yet to hear back. Courage believes it is at the grass roots level that

PR can do most to foster better relations between Libya and the UK. He

points out that there are 5,000 Libyan students in Britain, and that the

British form the largest expatriate community in Libya.

’The first thing we would want to do is humanise the face of Libya’s

ordinary citizens,’ he says, adding that the only things most people

know about Libya are that its leader is Colonel Gadaffi and that it is

oil-rich. Any PR operation would need to steer the focus away from


He suggests creating a ’constituency’ of support in the UK through a

series of cultural, political, academic, and even sporting


But as Bickham points out, the UK may not be the best place to start a

PR campaign. Libya has closer links with other European nations,

including Italy, with which it is building a pipeline to carry gas

between the two countries. ’They should be looking to lower hanging

fruit like the Italians, the French and the Spanish,’ he suggests.


There are three main ways to promote a country: politically, through

tourism and through trade. In Libya’s case, trade is the best place to

start. Libya has money from oil which it has not been able to spend

because of sanctions, and needs to invest in its infrastructure.

Suggestions put forward by consultants include:

- Decide which industry sectors to develop, then target international

companies through conferences and specialist media.

- Use oil money to help some noble causes

- Establish a chamber of commerce, followed by an academy to promote


- Initiate a public affairs campaign to inform foreign politicians,

using parliamentary exchanges and contact programmes for visiting

politicians, taking them to party conferences.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in