MANAMA—Bahrain's Economic Development Board (EDB) has retained Bell Pottinger to handle its multimillion dollar global PR mandate, amid continued unrest in the Gulf Kingdom.

The brief, which aims to boost inward investment in Bahrain, is seen as a vital component of Bahrain's efforts to restore its global reputation as a business-friendly haven.

Bell Pottinger has handled the business since 2009 and retains the assignment following a competitive review. The agency will be supported in Bahrain by Consulum, a firm launched last year by several senior Bell Pottinger Middle East executives, many of whom had earlier worked on the EDB assignment.

According to published tender documents, Bell Pottinger's bid was worth around $16m over the course of the five-year contract.

Other agencies that bid for the assignment included Hill+Knowlton, Portland, Media Consult, Weber Shandwick and Citigate.

Bahrain's business reputation has been hurt by the political and social tensions which have plagued the country since 2011, pitting the country's Shia majority against its Sunni rulers.

Bell Pottinger group MD David Wilson confirmed news of the appointment, but shrugged off concerns that the account may prove controversial, noting that it focused only on "economic development."

Previously, watchdog group Bahrain Watch asked bidding firms "not to participate in the whitewashing process of the Bahraini government’s human rights record.” The group estimates that the country's government has spent $32.5m on UK and US marketing and PR firms since the political uprising began.

Once the region's primary offshore banking hub, Bahrain has faced increasing competition from neighbours such as Dubai in recent years. Political instability, combined with systemic dependence on oil and gas, has resulted in numerous ratings downgrades since 2011, although economic growth has bounced back since.