MANAMA—Bahrain's Economic Development Board (EDB) is reviewing its global PR assignment amid continued political 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.

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

At the height of the strife two years ago, the EDB suspended the global PR assignment, which has been handled by Bell Pottinger since 2009, and also halted its work with Edelman in the US.

Since then, work has resumed, but the EDB will now choose between seven contending bidders for the lucrative five-year contract: Hill+Knowlton, Bell Pottinger, Portland, Media Consult., Weber Shandwick, Citigate and Consulum.

According to published tender documents, Portland has submitted the costliest tender, at approximately $25m. Bell Pottinger's bid is worth around $16m, while the remaining tenders are priced at around $5.5m or less.

It is understood that both Bell Pottinger and Consulum's tenders involve cooperation with each other. Consulum, which has an office in Bahrain, is a firm formed earlier this year by several senior Bell Pottinger Middle East executives, many of whom had earlier worked on the EDB assignment. 

The process has been criticised by watchdog group Bahrain Watch, which has asked bidding firms "not to participate in the whitewashing process of the Bahraini government’s human rights record.”  

Previously, Bahrain Watch has estimated 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 this year.