The Saylor Company, a Pasadena crisis-management firm, has just landed two high-profile
contracts in one of the world's violent flashpoints. The Georgian breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have hired the PR outfit to gain a little leverage in their war of words with big neighbor Georgia. Last year, of course, it was less about words and more about tanks and Grad rockets. Then, Georgia launched an ill-conceived attack on South Ossetia, only to be quickly overwhelmed by a Russian Army counter-blitz, which Abkhazia aided. The two autonomous regions, which remain unrecognized as sovereign nations except by Russia and Nicaragua, are virtual wards of Moscow, which is funding their crippled economies.
In fact, according to a report from ITAR-TASS, it's actually Russia who's footing the bills to pay Saylor. According to contracts for South Ossetia and Abkhazia filed with the Department of Justice, some of Saylor's duties for the former are to "remind the world of the brutal attack by Georgia's military on the civilian population of Tskhinvali in August" and "[e]xplain how the Russian military saved the civilian population of South Ossetia from Georgian military forces." The documents say Saylor's fees are not to exceed $30,000 per month, which public relations specialists regard as the industry's going rate.
The Lake Avenue PR firm, founded by former L.A. Times editor and Sitrick & Co. PR executive Mark Saylor, might seem a world away from conflicts in the Caucasus. However, after his role in selling the new Screen Actors Guild contract to dissident union members, as well as gilding the image of the Kuwaiti contractor responsible for construction of the troubled U.S. embassy in Baghdad, stepping into the middle of ancient ethnic rivalries probably seems like a piece of cake for Saylor, who is known as an aggressive marketer who does not farm out his work. (He declined to speak on the record for this report, citing the confidentiality of his work with clients.)
"The secret of a boutique PR business is to specialize," says Ross
Johnson, a former member of Sitrick & Co., and currently vice
president of corporate communications for BNC PR. "There's always going
to be a breakaway republic. So it makes sense to specialize in them --
I'm all for it."
Saylor's company will have its hands full,
given Western sympathy toward Georgia and suspicions of Russian
ambitions in the USSR's former spheres of influence.
have plenty of friends in journalism who look at me like I've gone to
the dark side," Mark Saylor is quoted in an interview that appears on
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his firm's Web site. The interviewer noted that "part of the reason he
left journalism, he says, was because of ethical concerns," having been
"actively involved in exposing the paper's questionable profit-sharing
arrangement with the Staples Center in 1999."