A PR firm whose president claimed to have been “recruiting journalists” for the campaign backing Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 football World Cup has declined the opportunity to explain its actions to Press Gazette.
BLJ Worldwide boss Mike Holtzman said in an email, published in full by the Sunday Times, that his firm had spent four months undertaking an “extensive campaign” to undermine rival bids from Australia and the US as part of an $80,000 a month contract with the Qatari bid team.
He said this included: “Recruiting journalists, bloggers and high-profile figures in each market to raise questions and promote negative aspects of their respective bids in the media.”
The US firm’s website appears to have been taken down since the article including the email was reported on 29 July.
The paper claimed BLJ Worldwide had run a “black operations” campaign, secretly gathering dirt and pushing negative publicity on rival bidders, alongside public work.
Press Gazette has made several attempts to contact BLJ (Brown Lloyd James) Worldwide over the claims made in the email from Holtzman, but has yet to receive a reply.
Holtzman was named PR Week’s PR Professional of the Year in 2002. He was also behind China’s PR campaign for its successful bid to host the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
A high-level PR observer said they suspected Holtzman may have been using “Americanised marketing speech – meant to make quite normal activity look a bit more intellectually complicated than it is actually is”.
They said there had been no allegations or evidence of a “slush fund bribing journalists to write things”, adding: “I don’t believe he’s recruited journalists, as in bought a load of them up.
“I may be wrong, but I suspect ‘recruiting journalists’ is him trying to impress the client. It sounds to me a bit like PR guff.”
BLJ Worldwide is a separate business from UK-based BLJ London following a demerger in 2010. BLJ London said it was not involved in the Qatar bid.
BLJ Worldwide was founded by Peter Brown and Sir Nicholas Lloyd and is based in New York.
Picture: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin