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

Kristopher Drake
September 7, 2017

Banking giant HSBC has joined firms that have cut ties with public relations firm Bell Pottinger, over a secret campaign to stir up racial tensions in South Africa.

Bell Pottinger's clients are ditching the company in droves following its expulsion from the UK's Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) on Monday.

Chime Communications, a joint-venture between Providence Equity Partners and advertising juggernaut WPP, returned its 27% stake in Bell Pottinger without compensation in August before the handing down of the verdict and now HSBC, Carillion, Richemont, and Investec have said they will no longer do business with the firm.

In addition to HSBC, Clydesdale Bank, the construction company Carillion, and United Kingdom broadband operator TalkTalk all revealed on Tuesday that they had stopped working with Bell Pottinger. Instead, it wrote off the holding and handed it back.

Worldwide law firm Herbert Smith Freehills published its findings on Monday, 4 September and concluded that Bell Pottinger's South African campaign was "potentially racially divisive" and breached ethical principles.

The campaign portrayed opponents of Mr Zuma as agents of "white monopoly capital", with slogans referring to "economic apartheid".

Bell Pottinger has confirmed that it is putting itself up for sale.

The UK accounts for 40 per cent of Bank of Ireland's loan book, mainly through its joint venture with the British Post Office.

PRCA director general Francis Ingham condemned the firm's work on the South Africa contract as "reprehensible".

It said it would continue to abide by the PRCA's code of ethics.

Bell Pottinger has been at the centre of a storm since the #GuptaLeaks emerged.

Chief executive James Henderson resigned on Sunday and the company said it would move quickly to appoint his replacement.

Tim Bell, co-founder of Bell Pottinger and the PR veteran who made his name by advising Britain's Margaret Thatcher, said it was "close to the end" for the agency. "I think it's very sad that something that I ran for years and years has been destroyed in less than a year", he told Reuters by telephone.

"[Clydesdale] and its associated brands no longer work with Bell Pottinger", said a spokesman for the bank.

Other reports by Ligue1talk

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