One of the world’s largest public relations firms wanted celebrities like Priyanka Chopra, Olivia Culpo, and “The Daily Show’s” Trevor Noah to star in a re-branding campaign meant to burnish the image of Saudi Arabia, according to a report.
Edelman, the PR giant based in Chicago, pitched several ideas, such as staging a Golden Globes-like awards ceremony in which Hollywood stars would flock to the desert kingdom or a Coachella-esque music festival featuring the biggest social media influencers from Los Angeles.
The pitches were contained in an Arabic-language glossy slide presentation that was obtained by Politico. The site reported that the Saudis hired Edelman for a fee of more than $787,000 per year.
Edelman’s pitch to the Saudis was for a promotional campaign entitled “Search Beyond” — the goal of which is to market Saudi Arabia as a modernized, connected country that is a hub of tourism, culture, and entertainment.
One possible idea floated was to have Trevor Noah and his “Daily Show” crew travel to Saudi Arabia for a week and host an episode — each night from a different city in the desert kingdom, according to Politico.
A former Edelman employee told Politico that the PR firm was eager to get Chopra on board because of her credentials as a feminist activist. Human rights organizations have long accused Saudi Arabia of widespread violations against women and girls.
The Post has sought comment from the Saudi embassy in Washington, DC, as well as from Edelman, Culpo, and Chopra.
A spokesperson for Paramount Global, the parent company which runs Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” told The Post: “Neither MTV (which is also owned by Paramount) nor The Daily Show were ever involved with this project.”
The Saudis hired Edelman in hopes of improving its public image in the United States, particularly after terrorist attacks of Sep. 11, 2001, as well as the gruesome 2018 murder of US-based Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
US intelligence agencies believe that the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was behind Khashoggi’s murder.
President Joe Biden vowed to make bin Salman a “pariah” during his campaign, but he reneged on that pledge and met with the royal over the weekend in Jeddah as part of the administration’s push to get oil-producing countries to boost output and help reduce gas prices.
The Saudis, who are flush with cash thanks to sky-high oil prices, are throwing their financial weight around by appealing to American mainstream culture in hopes of improving its image.
A sovereign wealth fund controlled by Saudi Arabia has poached several of America’s top professional golfers, including Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, and enticed them to join the LIV Golf Tour, a series of events designed to compete with the PGA Tour.
Golfers who have defected to LIV have been fiercely criticized for helping the Saudis’ campaign of “sportswashing” — using sports to boost their public profile while deflecting attention away from the country’s human rights record.
Athletes aren’t the only ones who have come under fire for helping promote the Saudi brand.
In 2019, actors Armie Hammer and Ryan Phillippe were among a group of celebrities and influencers who attended a music festival in Saudi Arabia.
They posted for photos and posted them online, where social media users responded with criticism.