The UAE branch of the British PR agency says it remains committed to its clients in the region
Bell Pottinger Middle East says it "flat out rejected" working with South Africa's Guptas
Bell Pottinger’s own public relations controversy related to a South African campaign will not affect the company’s Middle East operations , the PR agency said yesterday.
The British company was dismissed from the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) on Monday in an unprecedented move after an investigation pointed to its association with a campaign in South Africa involving the Gupta family, which owns investment company Oakbay with interests ranging from mining to media.
“Let’s be very clear about this – at no point did Bell Pottinger Middle East ever work for the Gupta family or on the Oakbay account. This particular client was managed out of London,” a spokesman for the Middle East office told The National.
Bell Pottinger Middle East, which represents Abu Dhabi’s Aldar Properties and asset manager Franklin Templeton, said that it had “flat out rejected” the opportunity to assist on the Oakbay account. “Our business in the region remains strong and we continue to deliver exceptional work on behalf of our clients,” the spokesman added.
The trade organisation said it would suspend Bell Pottinger’s membership for five years, dealing a blow to the firm’s reputation. Francis Ingham, PRCA director general, said that Bell Pottinger has brought the industry into “disrepute with its actions, and it has received the harshest sanctions” adding that the association had never before passed down such an indictment.
Bell Pottinger is connected to a campaign that played on apartheid fears for Oakbay, targeting opponents of the Gupta family and South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma. The Guptas have been accused of political wrangling to grab state contracts for their empire of companies spanning from media to mining.
An independent report investigating the PR company’s involvement in the South African campaign was released on Monday, a day after Bell Pottinger chief executive, James Henderson, stepped down adding to the four employees dismissed in July.
Law firm Herbert Smith Freehills’s report said that senior management knew the controversy surrounding its client and should have “closely scrutinised the creation of content for the campaign” although it appeared that did not happen.
Senior management had been provided with information from the account team that was inaccurate or misleading. However, the report said that there were several opportunities for management to have uncovered these instances.