Bell Pottinger scandal has damaged public perception of sector, but awareness is low

More than one in five members of the British public feel more negatively about PR as a result of the Bell Pottinger scandal, research by Atomik Research for PRWeek UK has found.

Protest: members of South Africa's Democratic Alliance at Bell Pottinger's London HQ in August
Protest: members of South Africa's Democratic Alliance at Bell Pottinger's London HQ in August

Earlier this month, Bell Pottinger became only the second agency in the last 10 years to be expelled from the PRCA, following a guilty ruling on a complaint about its now infamous work in South Africa.

The research questioned 1,400 UK adults about their knowledge of this work, and the agency's subsequent expulsion from the PRCA.

Of those surveyed, 25 per cent said they had heard of Bell Pottinger, while 75 per cent had not.

Those who said they had heard of the agency, a little more than half (53 per cent) said they had heard of the agency prior to its expulsion from the PRCA, while 36 per cent said they had not. Ten per cent said they were unsure why they knew the Bell Pottinger name.

A question outlining the key moments in the Bell Pottinger saga was then put to the 1,048 respondents who said they had not heard of the agency.

All respondents were then asked how it affected their view of the industry. A total of 22 per cent said it made them feel more negatively about the PR industry, while 43 per cent said their opinion had not changed. Seven per cent said the story had improved their perception of the PR industry, while 27 per cent answered "not sure".

Meanwhile, just over one in ten (11 per cent) said they had heard of the PRCA, whereas 89 per cent had not.

PRCA will work 'tirelessly' to defend PR industry

In response to the findings, PRCA director general Francis Ingham said he regretted that the Bell Pottinger story had lowered some people's perception of PR. He promised the PRCA would "work tirelessly" to defend and enhance PR's reputation.

Ingham said: "Do I think that the reputation of PR would have crashed through the floor if we hadn’t expelled Bell Pottinger? Yes. Will we work tirelessly to defend and enhance PR’s reputation in the months and years ahead? Yes.

"Do I think that we did the right thing and stood up for our overwhelmingly ethical industry’s best interests? Not a scintilla of doubt."

He also commented: "Being candid, the fact that 11 per cent of respondents have heard of the PRCA is actually surprisingly high for an industry professional body. A fact that I welcome - I imagine recognition was at least 10 points lower last month."

Read next: Francis Ingham did not 'enjoy' Bell Pottinger expulsion, saying it was the 'toughest' decision ever for PRCA

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