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Bell Pottinger loses clients and staff in wake of South Africa scandal

07 September 2017

The UK's Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) moved this week to ban Bell Pottinger from the association for a minimum of five years, mainly for stoking racial tensions in a campaign it led in support of South African president Jacob Zuma and his ruling party.

Bell Pottinger was fighting for its survival last night after its biggest outside shareholder renounced its holding, British clients started to defect in large numbers and senior staff began to seek new jobs.

Work carried out by Bell Pottinger for Bank of Ireland includes work with Capital Economics on an extensive risk assessment and contingency planning exercises to prepare for the impact of Brexit.

His departure raises big concerns for Bell Pottinger's ability to retain a number of its key City clients after HSBC, which said it has "used Bell Pottinger for specific projects in the past", announced it will not do so again in the future.

Clydesdale Bank, the construction company Carillion, HSBC and TalkTalk revealed on Tuesday that they had stopped working with Bell Pottinger.

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"Bell Pottinger has brought the PR and communications industry into disrepute with its actions and has received the harshest possible sanctions", said Francis Ingham, director general of the PRCA.

It said the South Africa campaign was not representative "of the way it works in general" and it would continue to abide by the PRCA's code of ethics.

In July, the PR firm's chief executive, James Henderson, offered an "unequivocable and absolute" apology for an "inappropriate and offensive" social media campaign. We find it inconceivable that an entire nation learnt of how Bell Pottinger was able to engineer a misleading and deceitful PR campaign that would further the aims of a private family (the Guptas) to benefit from state capture, while senior management were seemingly oblivious to this conduct for so long.

Oakbay was a lucrative account for Bell Pottinger, worth £100,000 ($130,000) a month, according to an email sent by former CEO Tim Bell who spoke on the BBC's "Newsnight" program Monday. "However, I think it is important I take proper accountability for what has happened".

"It's probably nearing the end", Lord Bell said.

Bell Pottinger loses clients and staff in wake of South Africa scandal