Hong Kong client of troubled PR firm Bell Pottinger rethinks ties over South Africa race scandal

But UK firm’s office in the city says Asia business is separate and it will strive to reassure customers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 September, 2017, 11:27am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 September, 2017, 9:53pm

A Hong Kong client of troubled British public relations firm Bell Pottinger is rethinking its working relationship with the company, over a controversial campaign that stirred racial tensions in South Africa.

Malvern College, a UK-based institution which is set to open a new international school next year in Tai Po, has previously used Bell Pottinger’s services but is now reconsidering their business with the firm.

Bell Pottinger was accused of its role in a South African campaign that highlighted the power of white-owned businesses, sparking anger over what it called “white monopoly capital” and “economic apartheid” in a country where race relations are still sensitive.

British PR firm Bell Pottinger expelled from association for running secret ‘racial’ campaign in South Africa

Malvern College Hong Kong admissions and marketing director Holly Tse said: “[The school] noted the recent issue of Bell Pottinger happening in South Africa. We are an international school that respects different cultures, and only work with a partner aligned with our philosophy.

“The top management is now reviewing the working relationship with Bell Pottinger and will come up [with] a decision very soon.”

Banking giant HSBC’s UK office also said in a statement on Wednesday that it would no longer use Bell Pottinger. HSBC’s Hong Kong office echoed their British counterparts.

“HSBC has used Bell Pottinger for specific projects in the past but will not be doing so in the future,” an HSBC spokesman said.

But Bell Pottinger’s Hong Kong office insisted that its business in Asia had “absolutely nothing to do with the work ... in South Africa”.

“Our Asia operation has its own chairman, management structures and high standards, and is largely unaffected,” Bell Pottinger Hong Kong partner and managing director, Sam Turvey, said.

“Our challenge now is to ensure clients remain informed and reassured, but to date they have been very loyal, for which we are grateful.”

Bell Pottinger established an office in the city in 2013, mainly working with Hong Kong clients who have ties to the UK.

Earlier this week, the Public Relations and Communications Association, a UK trade body, expelled Bell Pottinger from its ranks following the scandal.

The campaign in question was conducted on behalf of one of the wealthiest families in South Africa with close ties to the country’s president, Jacob Zuma.