How to sell democracy to Iraqis: bring in Lord Bell

Ian Burrell,Media Editor
Saturday 13 March 2004 01:00
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Lord Bell, the public relations adviser who masterminded Margaret Thatcher's rise to power in 1979, has been awarded a contract to promote democracy in Iraq.

Lord Bell, the public relations adviser who masterminded Margaret Thatcher's rise to power in 1979, has been awarded a contract to promote democracy in Iraq.

The Conservative peer's company, Bell Pottinger, has become one of the first British firms to win business from the American administration that is overseeing the rebuilding of the country after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Bell Pottinger - which, in partnership with two companies based in the Middle East, submitted a tender in January - has been commissioned to work on a large-scale public relations drive that will precede the handing over of power to an Iraqi government in June.

Speaking from Morocco, where he is on holiday, Lord Bell said the message would be that democracy was "the route to peace and prosperity".

He said: "There's no Arab word for democracy. That's one of the difficulties. If you say, 'Isn't democracy wonderful?' and they don't have a word for it, then it is not surprising that they do not have the same view."

He added: "We will be using all media: television, print, outdoor posters, leaflets and town hall meetings."

Bell Pottinger will lead a consortium that includes the Dubai-based advertising agency Bates PanGulf and the media services company Balloch & Roe, which already has offices in Baghdad.

The peer said that he would be "masterminding the campaign in London" and that it was unlikely that he would travel to Iraq himself. A team from Bell Pottinger has already visited Baghdad and was planning to fly out again tomorrow, he said.

Tim Bell was one of the founders of Saatchi & Saatchi in 1970 and, as the company's international chairman, he helped it to become Britain's leading advertising agency by 1981. He ran the publicity campaigns for the Conservative Party at the 1979, 1983 and 1987 elections, and was awarded a knighthood in Margaret Thatcher's resignation honours in 1990.

He has surprised some industry observers with his durability and continues to be an adviser to many big British companies.

The contract is good news for Bell Pottinger, which was recently hired by Lord Black, only to be dropped a month later. Canadian-born Lord Black turned to his friend for help after a barrage of bad publicity that eventually led to him being ousted as chairman and chief executive of the Telegraph group.

Earlier this week, the US administration unveiled the new constitution for the Iraqi provisional government, which is due to take power on 30 June.

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