The president and CEO of a Greek company linked to communications giant Edelman attended an event organized on the Greek spyware scandal. That raises questions about whether Edelman is involved in the issue’s communication management on behalf of the Greek government. Solomon reveals documents extending Edelman's contract with the government.
It is Thursday, April 27, late afternoon. The debate organized by Greek investigative outlet Inside Story regarding the spyware scandal is taking place in a packed room at the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers (ΕΣΗΕΑ).
A gray-haired gentleman is sitting in the crowd and he catches the attention of the organizers.
He is closely following the discussion that is unfolding.
Shortly after the event, the organizers realize that the gentleman in the audience is Stathis Haikalis, president and CEO of Communication Effect, a communications company affiliated with Edelman — one of the largest communication crisis management and lobbying agencies in the world.
In light of Haikalis’ status, many journalists at the event questioned whether Communication Effect or Edelman have been tasked with managing communications regarding the spyware scandal on behalf of the government.
The cooperation of Edelman with the Greek government came to light in September 2021 when Reporters United revealed that an Edelman executive appeared to be communicating via email to a foreign journalist on behalf of the government.
Solomon reached out to Haikalis to inquire whether his attendance at the event was a result of Communication Effect and/or Edelman’s involvement in the communication management of the spyware issue on behalf of the government.
Haikalis replied: “Indeed, I attended a public and open event regarding an issue of broad interest. However, the answer to your question is no; Communication Effect collaborates with Edelman for selected projects only (concerning international businesses) and has nothing to do with the activities you mention.”
Edelman: Services “to the Greek Government”
Edelman, billed as the world’s largest public relations firm, has been criticized in the past for its involvement in controversial issues: it has, for example, been accused by environmental activists of misrepresenting climate change issues to serve the interests of oil companies.
The agency has also been criticized for advising Saudi Arabia on improving its image in the United States, following the 2018 assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In October 2021, Edelman signed a €992,000 contract with Enterprise Greece (an investment and trade promotion agency of the Greek State, operating under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to provide the Greek government with services including the design and implementation of strategy and management of Greece’s relations with international media.
However, the evidence revealed by Reporters United about an intervention by Edelman to a journalist on behalf of a Greek minister as early as June 2021, long before the contract was signed, and a recent report in the Financial Times in February 2023 that Ed Williams, the CEO for Edelman in Europe, is an advisor to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, have served to confirm that Edelman is also directly active in the management of communication issues and crises on behalf of the Greek government and the prime minister himself.
Solomon questioned Edelman, and specifically Ed Williams, about whether or not the company was actively consulting on the spyware scandal, and whether that was part of his involvement with the Greek prime minister. We also asked him to clarify whether the services he provides to the prime minister are offered pro bono or under contract and what the details of the contract are, if any. At the time of publication, we have not received a reply.
The question of Edelman’s cooperation with the Greek government also arose in a committee of inquiry of the Greek Parliament in December 2021, which investigated allegations of the government’s manipulation of media and polling organizations.
In the context of the process, the governing party argued that cooperation with Edelman was not launched at the initiative of the Greek government and that it is not related to any activity by Edelman on behalf of the government. They accepted, however, that when “we refer to a country, we automatically refer to its government, which represents it, just as we also refer to its businesses”.
The contract signed by Enterprise Greece and Edelman, among other conditions regarding the project’s objectives, lists the “ongoing communications management with the International Media (proactive – reactive) and promotion of relevant messaging/communication material, depending on priorities that will be set by the Greek government and the developments of the current affairs that will concern the public promotion of the country”.
Edelman’s rolling contract
According to documents in Solomon’s possession and published in Greece’s e-procurement portal (ΚΗΜΔΗΣ) Edelman’s contract with the Greek State seems to be following over time the company’s link with the Greek government.
The original contract, valid for eight months (from October 2021), was amended in April 2022, changing its start date to January 2022, and states:
“The contract has a duration of eight (8) months. Its validity begins on January 18, 2022 and ends on September 17, 2022”.
Five days before the end of the contract, on September 12, 2022, Enterprise Greece proceeded — according to the documents — to exercise a unilateral right to increase the volume of services requested for an additional €180,000.
Through these amendments, the project objectives grew in time and cost, reaching €1,170,000.
Direct assignments and “the scent of scandal”
Haikalis is not only the president and CEO of Communication Effect but also of another company, WeAreRecipe.
WeAreRecipe was founded in February 2020. It shares the same physical address as Communication Effect and is also an affiliated company of Edelman.
As research by the newspaper Documento has indicated, since 2020, both companies have benefited from a series of direct assignments from Greek State agencies, the total amount of which exceeds €300,000 to date.
These contracts share common features – the services are to be provided for a short term, and the cost in many cases, amounts to tens of thousands of euros.
For example, in September 2022, Communication Effect was directly commissioned by ELTA (the Hellenic Post) to “support ELTA SA for its participation and presence at the 86th Thessaloniki International Fair”. Contract duration of seven days, for €36,580 including VAT. The project’s objectives are the organization of meetings, the coordination of events, offering support staff and the creation of a “folder for digital transformation” to be distributed to the public.
WeAreRecipe has been in the news regarding contracts of more than €90,000 that it secured from the Ministry of Migration and Asylum in the second half of 2021, following a closed tender procedure where another company, Speak Up P.C., also participated simultaneously.
At the time, questions were raised by the fact that 40% of Speak Up was owned by Communication Effect. In essence, companies with common interests were competing in the same tender process.
In a related parliamentary inquiry submitted to the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, there were discussions regarding “indications of manipulation of the tender process” as well as “the scent of scandal”. The ministry responded that the procedure was legal.
Today, according to information from Greece’s General Electronic Commercial Registry, Communication Effect is no longer part of Speak Up.