Emirates puts Bell Pottinger on alert as Lord Bell's MBO nears

Bell Pottinger's flagship Emirates account has been put up for review, as Lord Bell's plans for an MBO look increasingly likely to succeed.

Hello Tomorrow: Emirates is repositioning its global comms
Hello Tomorrow: Emirates is repositioning its global comms

The UAE airline’s brief, which has been held by Bell Pottinger Group for 12 years, covers corporate and consumer work and is worth a high-end six-figure sum.

Senior agency figures suggested the airline may be considering splitting the account across more than one agency. This follows a recently launched global comms overhaul to reposition Emirates away from pure travel into a global lifestyle brand under the ‘Hello Tomorrow’ banner.

Bell Pottinger Group MD David Wilson said the new positioning was leading the brand to rethink its entire comms set-up and the firm was ‘looking at all options’. He added: ‘We’re still talking to them about what role, if any, we will play going forward. We have worked with them for 12 years, taking them from being a relative unknown brand to a major player in the global airline industry.’

Pitches have already taken place for what has been described as Bell Pottinger’s flagship travel account, although it is understood that in recent years parts of the brief have been taken in-house.

Bell Pottinger Public Affairs handles Emirates’ lobbying work, but is not currently included in the pitch.
A spokesman for the airline said: ‘Emirates is currently in the process of reviewing its PR support in the UK. This is something that is done periodically in the markets we serve across the world. We are in the advanced stages of the pitch process in the UK and will be making a decision shortly on which agency will support Emirates in our new Hello Tomorrow era.’

The account represents one of the premium accounts in Lord Bell’s planned private agency, which is being spun out of Chime Communications subject to a shareholders’ vote being held next Monday.

Initial indications suggest that the MBO has overwhelming support from shareholders, though the board’s WPP representative has indicated that he will vote against the plan.

WPP chief executive Martin Sorrell said that he thought that the financial terms of the £19.6m deal were ‘strange’.

However, analysts have reacted favourably to the deal, with Investec stating it was ‘a positive in our view, as the ongoing PR distraction can now be put behind us and Chime can refocus on faster growth in sports/marketing’.

The MBO

  • The new Bell Pottinger will be made up of Bell Pottinger Public Relations, Pelham Bell Pottinger (60 per cent), Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, Bell Pottinger Sans Frontières and Bell Pottinger Middle East.
  • The deal is worth £19.6m and Chime will retain 25 per cent of holding company BPP Communications. 
  • The new firm’s owners will include Lord Bell, David Beck, Jeremy Deedes, James Henderson, John Leece, Tom Mollo and David Wilson.

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