LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (SEPTEMBER 4, 2017) (REUTERS) – Bell Pottinger, one of Britain’s best-known PR agencies, was expelled from the industry’s trade association on Monday (September 4) over a campaign adjudged to have deliberately stoked racial tensions in South Africa.
“The view of our board, the view of the PRCA board, was that Bell Pottinger’s actions were deliberately intended to create exactly the result that they did — stirring up racial hatred in a very sensitive area of the world, and that’s why we’ve expelled them,” Ingham, Director General of the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), told Reuters.
The association found that it had backed a campaign that played on still-sensitive race relations in the country in support of President Jacob Zuma and his ruling party. The expulsion was for a minimum of five years, after which the firm could reapply – the harshest sanction possible.
In a statement, Bell Pottinger said it accepted there were lessons to be learned, but disputed “the basis on which the ruling was made”. It said it would continue to abide by the PRCA’s code of ethics.
Bell Pottinger is no stranger to controversy, with clients including Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad and the Pinochet Foundation, which promotes the legacy of the former Chilean dictator. But this most recent scandal has prompted two clients to drop the company, its CEO to resign and the dismissal or suspension of four members of staff.