PR Firm Bell Pottinger Seeks Buyer as Clients Flee Amid Crisis

Following a racially divisive social-media campaign in South Africa, Bell Pottinger LLP has put itself up for sale after being expelled from the U.K.’s public-relations industry body and losing clients.

Financial adviser BDO has been hired “to look at all options regarding the future of the business,” by the London-based PR firm, founded by Margaret Thatcher’s media consultant, the company said in a statement.

Because as existing investors have distanced  themselves amid controversy over its work for the Gupta family in South Africa, therefore finding a buyer may present a challenge to Bell Pottinger. Sources said that 27 percent stake without compensation was returned by Chime Comunication Ltd. two weeks. And among the latest companies to stop working with Bell Pottinger, are clients HSBC Holdings Plc and construction firm Carillion Plc.

The agency is unlikely to survive, co-founder Timothy Bell told BBC’s Newsnight program on Monday. “It’s probably nearing the end,” said Bell, who formed the firm in the 1980s and left last year. “You can try and rescue it but it won’t be very successful.”

Including in locations including Bahrain, Kuala Lumpur and Yangon, Myanmar, Bell Pottinger employs more than 240 people in offices dotting the globe. according to its website, its client list includes entities ranging from multinational businesses to governments and high-profile individuals. According to data compiled by Bloomberg the revenues and net income of the company were 33.3 million pounds ($43.5 million) and 3.3 million pounds respectively inn 2015.

For taking on controversial clients like former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s foundation, the agency has attracted attention in the past. Fake insurgent videos used to track those who accessed them was included in a U.S.-funded anti-Al-Qaeda propaganda campaign that Bell Pottinger carried out in Iraq, according to a 2016 report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

After an investigation found Bell Pottinger ran a potentially divisive social-media campaign on behalf of the Guptas, who are friends with South African President Jacob Zuma and in business with his son, the latest crisis gathered pace this week. In an unprecedented rebuke by the U.K. public-relations industry body, the firm was thrown out of the Public Relations and Communications Association.

Bell Pottinger has said that it would abide by the PRCA code of ethical conduct on a voluntary basis and it accepted there were “lessons to be learned”. The company said that many employees would consider applying for individual membership, because they didn’t work on the account for the Guptas’ Oakbay Investments Pvt. Ltd.

Bell while working for the Guptas, four clauses of the PRCA’s code of conduct and professional charter were found to have been broken by Pottinger. “dealing fairly and honestly” with the public at all times and causing racial offense with their work should not be done by its members, state the rules.

v a contract with Bell Pottinger last year a contract with Bell Pottinger last yearw was ended by Ccie Financiere Richemont SA, the luxury-goods company controlled by Johann Rupert, South Africa’s richest man.

(Adapted from Bloomberg)


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