By John Irish
Baghdad-based media services firm, Balloch and Roe make money in aid of the Iraqis.
Some might call them opportunists, others profiteers, but media services company, Balloch and Roe, are doing something right in Iraq.
New Zealander, Brent Balloch, and American, Jack Roe, set up in Iraq a week before the war started. A year on and with a silent Iraqi partner, who owns a 40% stake in the group, the firm has expanded rapidly.
Their success recently culminated in a multi-million CPA contract with Bell Pottinger and Bates PanGulf to promote democracy in the former Baathist state.
Balloch remains tight-lipped on the nitty-gritty of the contract, but alludes to his own background as one of the main reasons why his firm was picked. His curriculum vitae boasts an impressive record.
Human rights and NGO work in Chechnya, Palestine and the Ivory Coast, along with training as a lawyer, make him amply qualified for his Iraqi tour of duty. While he stays clear of talking about his CPA work, his other projects clearly fill him with excitement.
In the space of a year, he has built up 12 businesses with over 300 staff, all Iraqis, he adds quickly.
One such project is an independent commercial rock and roll radio station, IQ4. Up and running since June, it now has a 31-man crew and, according to Balloch, attracts 3.5 million listeners.
“It’s totally non-political,” says Balloch. “It has no news, just entertainment, music, game calling and it’s in Arabic and English.”
Currently, the network covers just Baghdad and its surroundings. However, the next step, he says, is a transmitter in central Iraq encompassing a 250km circle. The radio station is a sign business is getting back to normal.
“We have various local companies that advertise with us and we’re in negotiations with larger firms. It’s small at the moment, but it’s not like you see it on television. “People are getting out there and making it happen. They’re advertising, marketing and there’s a vibrant, albeit small, commercial retail world out there.”
Balloch dismisses any thoughts about the organisation being non-profit. He is out to make money, but not at the expense of Iraqis. He sees his experience in Iraq as a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“It’s an opportunity to partake in the rebuilding of a once great nation. Business is a leveller on things. You get the job done and you get paid; the CPA and the Iraqis know that.”