Bell Pottinger’s Asian arm separates from UK parent company as fallout from pro-Zuma scandal deepens

Bell Pottinger’s Asian operation employs about 50 staff and is headquartered in Singapore with offices in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mynamar

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 September, 2017, 6:52pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 September, 2017, 6:52pm

The management team of Bell Pottinger’s Asian arm is buying the agency and rebranding it with a name that translates as “Clarity” in a bid to distance itself from the scandal-racked parent company which is on the brink of going into administration.

The Asian operation, which is chaired by parent company co-founder Piers Pottinger, has put in an offer to accountancy firm BDO, which is struggling to find buyers for Bell Pottinger, which it believes will be accepted.

“We are a separate legal entity anyway so we are not affected by the imminent administration,” said Piers Pottinger. “We will be making an offer to the administrator who will hopefully accept it. We are trading as a going concern and the administrator will probably be minded to accept an offer as it is one part of the problem they can solve really rapidly and reduce a whole lot of costs.”

The industry’s trade association found Bell Pottinger had backed a campaign that played on still sensitive race relations in South Africa to rally support for President Jacob Zuma and his ruling party.

South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, had complained to the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) about the campaign which portrayed opponents of President Jacob Zuma as agents of “white monopoly capital” and coined slogans of “economic apartheid”.

Klareco is the Esperanto word for clarity, Esperanto is the international language of hope and harmony
Piers Pottinger, co-founder

Such slogans gained traction in a country where the white minority still wields disproportionate economic power, two decades after the end of apartheid.

As a result, Bell Pottinger was expelled from the PRCA for a minimum of five years, after which the firm could reapply – the harshest sanction possible.

Bell Pottinger’s Asian operation intends to rebrand as Klareco Communications – which means “clarity” in Esperanto, deliberately chosen to distance itself from the secret campaign to stir racial tension in South Africa that sunk its London-based parent.

“Klareco is the Esperanto word for clarity, Esperanto is the international language of hope and harmony,” said Pottinger. “We have chosen it because it reflects the true values of us here and is something [that reflects] a clean break and that is what we have done.”

Pottinger said the Asian operation, which is profitable and is “trading very robustly”, has mostly local clients such as PayPal.

Bell Pottinger’s Asian operation employs about 50 staff and is headquartered in Singapore with offices in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mynamar. The parent company in London owns 90 per cent of the business with Shih-huei Ang, the chief executive of Asia, controlling 10 per cent.

Under the new deal, Pottinger will become a shareholder in the separated business. The exact details have yet to be worked out and Pottinger declined to reveal the price.

Bell Pottinger also has a business in the Middle East, with offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The operation, which is run by Archie Berens, could also potentially look to separate from the parent company.

Bell Pottinger is no stranger to controversy, with clients including Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad and the Pinochet Foundation, which promotes the legacy of the former Chilean dictator.