Bell Pottinger hires BDO to look at options as clients and staff abandon crisis-hit agency

Bell Pottinger has hired accountancy firm BDO to look at options for the business, as more clients sever ties with the stricken PR agency.

Canary Wharf resident HSBC is among clients abandoning Bell Pottinger
Canary Wharf resident HSBC is among clients abandoning Bell Pottinger

A sale of the business is one option on the table. PRWeek has learned that a major global ad agency made enquiries about buying the company earlier in the summer, although it is unclear whether a formal approach was made and whether it still retains interest.

Bell Pottinger is expected to make an announcement about its future within the next couple of days. The FT reports this morning that the agency is considering a rebranding after the fallout from its activities in South Africa for Oakbay Investments, which has already seen it expelled from the PRCA for running activities "likely to inflame racial discord".

Separately, Chime Communications handed its 27 per cent stake in Bell Pottinger back to the beleaguered PR agency last month, apparently without any money changing hands, it has emerged.

Client changes

The news comes as more clients are reported to have severed ties with the London-based PR agency, although in some cases the work stopped prior to the recent controversy.

CYBG, the banking group that gave a wide-ranging brief to Bell Pottinger last year, said it had "decided earlier this year to end our relationship with Bell Pottinger", and eventually did so in July.

HSBC has told various media outlets, including Reuters, that it had "used Bell Pottinger for specific projects in the past but will not be doing so in the future". Another source told PRWeek the bank had "sacked" the agency.

Accountancy giant EY has also been named among departing clients of Bell Pottinger; it has not worked with the agency since completing project work last year.

However, the IT and outsourcing firm ATOS continues to use Bell Pottinger for public affairs.

Another client, Waitrose, has told PRWeek it does not "comment on specific supplier relationships".

Other clients reported in the national media to have left the agency include investments firm Queensgate, construction company Carillion, and student housing provider Unite Group. None of these companies responded when contacted by PRWeek.

As PRWeek previously reported, Bell Pottinger stopped working with investment firm Investec and mining group Acacia in the first half of 2017, and with luxury goods firm Richemont last year. The loss of all three has been reportedly due to concerns over Bell Pottinger's Oakbay work. Richemont and Investec were both founded in South Africa, and Acacia operates across Africa.

The agency and BDO both declined to comment this morning.

Staff departures

Several staff have also left the business.

Alongside sacked partner Victoria Geoghegan, former barrister Stuart Leach – who led the global advisory unit created by Bell Pottinger's reorganisation last year – left the business in July, and his LinkedIn profile gives his current job as "founder" at a business "To be announced", with a start date of September.

Leila Mountford, a South African native who previously starred in a soap aired the country, also recently left her role as a creative to join The Romans.

Bell Pottinger CEO James Henderson resigned prior to the PRCA’s ruling on Monday.

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