Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

London PR Men Who Are Ready to Brave War Zones; ENTREPRENEURS

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

London PR Men Who Are Ready to Brave War Zones; ENTREPRENEURS

Article excerpt

Byline: Gideon Spanier

ONE OF the things about bombs and bullets that most people don't realize is that if you are hearing rifle fire, you're safe -- because it's not hitting you. The bullet hits you before the bang, which civilians don't understand."

Listening to Simon Haselock talk about working in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, it is clear he and business partner Dieter Loraine are no ordinary PR men.

The two ex-Royal Marines run Albany Associates, a specialist firm that advises international organisations how to improve media and communications in troubled countries that are recovering from conflict and moving to democracy.

Since they founded Albany in 2004, their work has taken them to hot spots such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. And Libya could be next, as they eye post-war opportunities there.

Clearly, being able to shrug off the sound of the odd bullet is essential.

International PR has been under scrutiny recently after some London firms were accused of reputation laundering on behalf of dubious regimes such as Colonel Gaddafi's Libya and Hosni Mubarak's Egypt. But Albany works chiefly for Western government organisations such as the UK's Department for International Development, the US State Department and the United Nations.

Haselock, 56, and Loraine, 52, are adamant that they are not reputation launderers. Their firm has only worked for one foreign government, Kosovo, and that was a short contract.

"At Albany, we very much believe that you cannot spray perfume on a cow-pat," says Haselock, who has the courteous, no-nonsense manner that one would expect from an ex-Marine. "If it's a cow-pat, it's going to smell. So we are not spin doctors."

Albany, which is based in Chiswick, did not begin as a PR firm. The initial focus was on advising on media policy and regulation -- creating the equivalent of an Ofcom, the UK media and telecoms regulator -- in post-conflict zones.

Haselock and Loraine had both cut their teeth in the Balkans in the late 1990s when they worked with Nato after the Bosnian war. "It was about stamping out hate speech," recalls Loraine. "Once the bullets and bombs stopped, the hate speech was perpetuating the ethnic divide."

They helped to introduce media regulation and encourage plurality -- a wider choice of news sources.

By the start of the millennium, both men were working as private consultants. "We thought there's a business here," explains Loraine. "The more we realized there would be a problem [in post-conflict countries] with regulation of content and the digital revolution, the more we saw an opportunity to advise governments and companies."

And so Albany began. "We've had growth year on year, since day one," says Loraine.

Now only about 30% of its work involves media development and regulation. …

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