Bell Pottinger City chief departs amid racism scandal

Jerome Frank
September 7, 2017

Britain's Bell Pottinger has put itself up for sale after it lost clients for running a racially charged campaign in South Africa, potentially bringing down the curtain on one of the world's leading public relations agencies.

"We are reviewing the situation", a spokesman for Bank of Ireland said in response to questions from The Irish Times on Wednesday.

An investigation by the UK's Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) found the campaign was likely to "inflame racial discord" in the country.

Bell Pottinger said it had hired accountancy firm BDO "to look at all options for the business including a possible sale" as the tarnished company faced the prospect of being broken up. Instead, it wrote off the holding and handed it back.

Bell Pottinger was expelled from the PR industry's trade body last night.

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

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The PRCA, which represents 400 businesses and 20,000 individuals, on Tuesday banned the London-based agency from its membership for at least five years - the harshest sanction in its history.

"We have used Bell Pottinger for specific projects in the past but will not be doing so in the future", said a spokesperson for HSBC when speaking to The Independent.

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

In July, the PR firm's chief executive, James Henderson, offered an "unequivocable and absolute" apology for an "inappropriate and offensive" social media campaign.

The highest-profile departure so far is John Sunnucks, the chairman of Bell Pottinger's corporate and financial practice.

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. Richard Edelman yesterday described Bell Pottinger's expulsion from the PRCA as a "proud moment for the industry", while many senior PR figures have publicly applauded the decision. "However, I think it is important I take proper accountability for what has happened".

Other reports by Guamnewswatch

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