'I knew this would happen' - Lord Tim Bell speaks out on disastrous Bell Pottinger campaign in South Africa

'I knew it would stray into this territory' - Lord Tim Bell speaks out on disastrous Bell Pottinger campaign in South Africa

Lord Tim Bell, a co-founder of the company, spoke to Sam Delaney (Credit: Twitter @TBIJ)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The co-founder of a PR company currently embroiled in a race row has made it clear he knew their work for a billionaire's company would lead them down this road.

Bell Pottinger has been struggling after one of its campaigns provoked outrage in South Africa.

A campaign run for an investment company called Oakbay Capital - owned by the billionaire Gupta Family - illustrated opponents of President Jacob Zuma as figures of "White monopoly capital" and used slogans like "economic apartheid."

The fallout from this has seen Bell Pottinger thrown out of the UK Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) and a number of its clients - like HSBC and Investec - cut their ties with it. 

Lord Tim Bell, who founded the company 30 years ago and left it last year, said it was obvious the campaign would stray into the territory it did. 

He told Sam Delaney: "I thought it was a most unfortunate piece of business.

"I think they [company directors] knew from the start what it was, a campaign intending to encourage empowerment of black people, and that was inevitably going to criticise people for being 'white capital'.

“It became obvious to me it was going to stray into that territory. I was aware it would be perceived as a bad campaign.

"It doesn’t mean that’s what the company intended to happen, but that’s the law of unintended consequences."

The former company boss said he had warned his fellow directors, including former CEO James Henderson, of this.

"I was very precise with the people in the company. I made it clear they [the client] were asking us to do things which weren’t ethically correct, and we couldn’t go on doing it. 

"It’s very disappointing. I’ve lived with it for 18 months. It took me 30 years to build the business up to its stature, and then a year to wipe it out."

A spokesperson for Bell Pottinger said: "Both James Henderson and Lord Bell have resigned from the company. We don’t want to add to their comments.

"An independent report has established what actually happened, the findings have been published in full. The agency is building a new management team which will be announced very soon.

"We are determined to serve our clients with integrity to the highest industry standards."