Qorvis Communications

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Qorvis Communications is a public relations firm with offices in Virginia and Washington D.C.

O'Dwyer's PR Daily lists Qorvis as earning $23,900,000 in net fees in 2006, up 31% on the previous year. It notes the firm has 85 employees. [1]


According to O'Dwyer's PR Daily, Qorvis was “formed in August 2000 via the merger of Poretz Group (IR and technology PR), Weber-Merritt Co. (grassroots specialist) and JAS Communications (marketing communications)”. [1]

In February, O’Dwyer’s listed the 2003 fee income for Qorvis as being $12.2 million. [2] O’Dwyers refers to Patton Boggs being an “investor” in Qorvis and as an “affiliate”. [3] [4]


According to PR Week, Qorvis formed its own federal political action committee in the summer of 2004, called Q-PAC. "The agency decided to do that, says managing director Don Goldberg, because it's so important to get clients in front of policy makers." According to the Center for Responsive Politics database, Q-PAC had only raised $3,187 as of October 2004.[5]

"Qorvis has a PAC committee, which Goldberg heads, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, that decides what contributions Q-PAC should make. The committee doesn't actually take a vote, but tries to form a consensus. 'The person who suggests it says why it would help our clients or our firm and what amount it should be,' Goldberg says. 'If someone objects and we can't resolve it, then we don't do it.' Q-PAC has already made some contributions to candidates of both parties. That balance is important to the agency, Goldberg says - Qorvis has professionals from both sides of the political aisle."[6]


Aside from its work for Saudi Arabia, Qorvis has also worked for the government of Haiti. According to a lobbyist registration report filed by Dellums & Associates for the period to December 30, Qorvis would "participate in the preparation or dissemination of informational materials" on behalf of Haiti. However, Michael Petruzzello told O'Dwyer's PR Daily that while the company had worked for Haiti in the past it was not involved with the current work. [7][8]

In September 2006, O'Dwyer's and other PR trade publications reported that Qorvis had been retained by the major industry lobby group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), "for a national PR campaign to educate the public about the good work done by drug companies and the important role they play in developing new medicines." [9]

In June 2007, Qorvis began working for the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), "an opposition group whose members have been jailed by the military regime that seized power in January. ... The BNP is working to promote democracy in Bangladesh," reported O'Dwyer's. While Qorvis had done at least some media outreach for the BNP, it had no formal contract with the party, had not received any compensation from the party, and was unclear whether the party would be paying them in the future. [10]

Being "unhelpful" in attacking Spitzer

In October 2004, Qorvis was hired by insurance giant American International Group Inc. (AIG) for crisis management regarding New York state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's probe of the insurance industry. Qorvis asked the Leading Authorities booking agency to email respected spokespeople on financial issues, to ask them to consider being paid to help AIG by criticizing Spitzer's investigation. [11]

The emails - which both Qorvis and Leading Authorities said AIG knew nothing about - were sent on October 25 to Yale School of Management dean Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, former Securities and Exchange Commission member Laura Unger, American Enterprise Institute scholar Kevin Hassett, and former SEC chief accountant Lynn Turner. The emails mentioned a possible "$25,000 retainer, and $10,000 for opinion articles or TV appearances." They also suggested possible anti-Spitzer talking points, including that revamping "long-standing industry-wide practices is better left to regulators who understand the industry, rather than criminal investigators"; that concerns with the insurance industry "could have been addressed in a more subtle way, perhaps by bringing the industry in to reach an agreement, without the media storm"; and that "the innocent bystander ... is the individual investor" whose stocks are hurt by "the current theatrics." [12]

Qorvis' Don Goldberg said the emails were "just research," and that Qorvis hadn't asked Leading Authorities to offer money to the potential spokespeople. AIG fired Qorvis the same day that the emails were sent, for being "unhelpful." A spokesperson for the New York Attorney General's office called the campaign "manipulative, dishonest and wrong." [13]

Controversy over Saud account

They announced several months after 9/11, on March 21st, 2002, that they were receiving a $200,000 a month retainer from the government of Saudi Arabia.

In December 2002, the New York Times reported that three of the founding partners of Qorvis announced that they were leaving the firm. Times reporter Philip Shenon reported that associates said "their departure reflects a deep discomfort in representing the government of Saudi Arabia against accusations that Saudi leaders have turned a blind eye to terrorism." [14]

The three departing partners were Bernie Merritt and Jim Weber, described as longtime Republican strategists and Judy Smith, "a former White House deputy press secretary who became the spokeswoman for Monica Lewinsky during President Clinton's impeachment". The three left to join the rival PR company Clark & Weinstock.

In December 2004, the FBI raided three of Qorvis' offices, and delivered subpoenas to a fourth. Officials at the U.S. attorney's office confirmed the raids, but would not comment further since there was an "ongoing investigation." Qorvis "said the company understood that the government is conducting a 'compliance inquiry' under the Foreign Agents Registration Act." The company formally stated that "Qorvis has fully complied with this registration statute and we feel confident this will be resolved favorably." [15]

One week later, Newsweek reported that the Justice Department investigation of Qorvis involved a "2002 radio ad campaign supposedly paid for by an obscure group called the Alliance for Peace and Justice," which the report described as "a hastily arranged and now dormant group consisting of well-established Washington organizations active in Middle East issues." At question is "whether the Alliance for Peace and Justice was used by Qorvis president Michael Petruzzello and his chief client, the Saudi Embassy’s [Adel] al-Jubeir, to run advertisements that were really designed to burnish the Saudi government’s image and influence the domestic debate on U.S. Mideast policy." [16]

The radio ad campaign in question ran in 30 U.S. cities in 2002. The spots praised the Arab League’s “fair plan” for a Middle East peace settlement. The content of the ads was described as one person involved with the campaign as "moderate." The issue for the Justice Department is whether the ads ran afouls of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires "political or 'informational' messages be clearly labeled with a statement that the message was sponsored by a foreign government." Newsweek reported, "The ads were initially financed by a 'bridge loan' of about $640,000 from the Saudi Embassy" and "the loan was repaid by funds solicited by al-Jubeir in Saudi Arabia from businesses associated with the Chambers of Commerce in Saudi Arabia and believed to be close to the Saudi government." [17]

"Outreach" for the House of Saud

In an article that was published in the New York Sun on August 10 2004 - as well as numerous websites - the director of the Middle East Forum, Daniel Pipes, exposed a Saudi "outreach" program aimed at American universities. "A range of public figures—former ambassadors, university professors, think tank experts – routinely opine in America about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia while quietly taking Saudi funds," he wrote.

"They learnedly discuss Arabian affairs on television, radio, in public lectures, and university classrooms. Having no visible connection to Saudi money, they speak with the authority of disinterested U.S. experts, enjoying more credibility than, say, another billionaire prince from the royal family," he wrote. [18][19]

In response to Pipes original article in the New York Sun, the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia’s Information Office distributed a media release stating that “neither the government of Saudi Arabia nor any public relations firm compensates these individuals for their activities. These esteemed experts on Middle East issues speak their own minds and on their own behalf. ” [20]

The media statement, distributed by Qorvis, took exception to Pipes statement that Saudi Arabia paid five Middle East experts to speak on its behalf. “This is absolutely not true,” it insisted. Furthermore it wanted the the New York Sun to print “an immediate apology” to the five.

The Professor of Political Science and Director of the Program on International Politics, Economics, and Security at the University of Chicago, Charles Lipson, explained in an e-mail released on Pipes website that he had been approached on several occasions by phone and e-mail by Sarah Burleson from Adelstein & Associates who had told him she was working on behalf of Qorvis Communications.

In a June 17 e-mail to Lipson, now reproduced on Pipes website, Burleson explained that her company "provides external communications for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and one of the primary goals in our 2004 outreach campaign is to provide ongoing education to communities around the country regarding the importance and value of strong U.S.-Saudi relations." [21]

"It is crucial to reach Americans outside the Washington Beltway, and the Chicago area is a key market for us to address in that effort. One of our campaign components is to implement a speaker's bureau program on behalf of the Kingdom that reaches into target markets across the nation," she continued.

Burleson then went on to explain that "we have numerous spokespersons" that would be to present at Lipson's International Politics, Economics and Security Program at the University of Chicago. She proceeded to list five possible candidates: Ambassador Walter L. Cutler, the President of Meridian International Center; Mary E. Morris, the Vice President and Director of Programs for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council; Ambassador Richard W. Murphy, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York; freelance writer Sandra Mackey; and Dr. Samer Shehata, assistant professor of Politics at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

While the Saudi Embassy insisted in its media stated that it did not pay those named, Lipson says he had discussed with Burleson the fact that if any of the fiver were to speak at the Univeristy of Chicago they would only be able to pay the normal honorarium of $250.

"At that point, she informed me that the P.R. firms would be paying all expenses, including travel and any associated honoraria, and that my speakers program would not have to pay anything at all. I did not explicitly ask whether these speakers received any fees directly or indirectly from the Saudi government, Saudi businesses, or Saudi philanthropies for this work, and she did not say," he wrote. [22]

Lipson was puzzled at the prospect of such luminaries working as volunteers. "Apparently, these senior figures spend days flying around the country, speaking on behalf of a major Saudi P.R. initiative, while turning down compensation from the venues that host them, from the Saudis themselves, and from the Saudi P.R. firms. One obvious question is whether they are compensated by any other Saudi-based or Saudi-funded institutions for these activities. The press release mentions only the government and the P.R. firms," he wrote.

O'Dwyers PR Daily attempted to contact Burleson but noted she did not return the call. [23]

In an editorial to follow up the controversy after publishing Pipes original column, the New York Sun reported that it had contacted all five of the potential speakers listed by Burleson. "All five denied not only being paid by the Saudis but even being aware that the Saudis were trying to line up speaking engagements for them, let alone offering to reimburse the host institution for their expenses and honoraria," it reported.

"We don't lack regard for these individuals, who have every right to express their views. No doubt they would take umbrage at being called "spokespersons" in a wire from the Saudis regime's P.R. people. By our lights it all adds up to a lesson in Saudi methods, courtesy of the inestimable Daniel Pipes," the Sun wrote. [24]

In January 2005 O'Dwyers PR Daily reported that Qorvis "is promoting the first Counter-Terrorism International Conference on behalf of client Saudi Arabia." More than 50 countries will be represented at the invite-only event in Riyadh, which will feature workshops on "relationships between terrorism, money laundering, arms and weapons, and how to promote international cooperation in combating terror." [25]

Employee and Income Totals

PR Week ranked Qorvis Communications as the number seven PR agency in the United States in 2008, with 2007 revenue of $30,497,000, a 28% increase from the previous year's total revenue of $23,900,000. The ranking also notes its staff total of 86 (2006 total: 85), with $354,616 in revenue per employee.[2]

Managing partners

Other staff

In October 2004, O'Dwyer's PR Daily reported that Matt Lauer, the former executive director at the State Department's U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, joined Qorvis as a director. Qorvis CEO Michael Petruzzello commended Lauer's "unique skills to foster understanding between the Middle East and the American people"; Lauer said he will be "working on a collection of clients, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," with Qorvis. As the Commission on Public Diplomacy's director, Lauer critiqued U.S. outreach to Muslim countries.[26] In February 2007, Qorvis promoted Lauer from director to managing director. [27]

In June 2006, O'Dwyer's reported that former AT&T media relations head Jim McGann was joining Qorvis as their managing director. "McGann will be working with the Computer and Communications Industry and the pro-'Net neutrality 'It's Our Net' coalition on the current telecom reform bill," according to O'Dwyer's. [28]

Qorvis promoted Don Goldberg, Rich Masters and Susan Murphy to firm partners in February 2007. Other staff promoted at that time included Halah Al-Jubeir, Al Black, Jim Clouse, Elissa Dodge, Kristin Perkins, Seth Thomas Pietras, Jennifer Stoltz, Charissa Benjamin, Catherine Castro, Renate Geerlings, Layton Meng, Lauren Poplawski, Matt Gottlieb, Lauren (Ashley) Mason, and Pierce Resler. [29]

In May 2008, Bulldog Reporter reported that Tom Reynolds, who most recently served as the national press secretary for presidential candidate and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, has joined the firm as a Director. [30]

Contact information

8484 Westpark Drive
Suite 800
McLean, Virginia 22102
Phone: 703.744.7800
Fax: 703.744.7840
Email: dporetz AT qorvis.com
Web: http://www.qorvis.com/index.htm

1201 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Suite 300
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202.496.1000
Fax: 202.496.1300


  1. "2006 Worldwide Fees of independent Firms With Major U.S. Operations", accessed June 2007.
  2. "2008 Agency Rankings," PR Week, 28 April 2008.

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