Bell Pottinger was a British public relations company, specialising in "managing reputations".
In September 2017, the London-based firm was put into administration in the wake of a scandal over a campaign to stir up racial tensions in South Africa.
Earlier, Bell Pottinger had been expelled from the British PR body the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), which blasted Bell Pottinger's campaign as “the worst breach of ethics in its history”, accusing the PR firm for bringing the entire PR industry into disrepute.
Bell Pottinger subsidiaries in Asia and the Middle-East, which are legally separate from its UK parent company, were not affected and will continue to trade as legally separate companies. It's expected they will be spun off and rebranded.
- Daniel Hamilton – Former partner at Bell Pottinger, before that Big Brother Watch Director. Hamilton now works for FTI Consulting.
- Alex Deane – Former Director at Bell Pottinger, before that Big Brother Watch Director. Deane went on to lead the public affairs team at Weber Shandwick before (like Hamilton) joining FTI consulting.
- John Russell - Worked for Bell Pottinger managing the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association account. When Russell founded his own consultancy Russell & Hart in 2001, he took TMA with him as a client.
Relationship with the Tobacco Industry
Brokering Access to EU Officials
In 2011, when an impact assessment was being carried out on the revision of the EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), Bell Pottinger tried to broker meetings for Imperial Tobacco with the European Commission’s Secretariat General (responsible for EU Better Regulation) and DG TRADE (in charge of implementing common EU trade policy).
On 7 July 2011, Bell Pottinger‘s Kevin Doran contacted the Secretariat-General to set up a meeting on behalf of Imperial Tobacco. In his email Doran argued that the measures proposed in the revised TPD would lead to increased illicit tobacco in Europe, and warned that the TPD deserved an “evidence-based rationale”. The Secretariat-General declined Doran’s request calling it “inappropriate to discuss substantive issues that relate to an Impact Assessment that which is not yet published with outside stakeholders”.
A copy of Ghersetti’s email can be accessed here.
Ghersetti wrote "it is Imperial Tobacco's concern that a number of actions suggested thus far by DG SANCO in the review of the EU TPD do not sufficiently take into consideration the concerns and wishes of the European citizens such as expressed in the recently undertaken Public Consultation, and that "DG SANCO have chosen to gloss over the results of this consultation and pursue an approach to the TPD which has focused on increased regulation".
Ghersetti further challenged two proposed tobacco control measures in particular, Plain Packaging (which was later removed from the TPD proposal) and an ingredients ban. According to Ghersetti, plain packaging would see an increase in illicit tobacco trade, and the ingredients ban was "scientifically unfounded" and would "endanger the jobs of tens of thousands [of] citizens across the European Union who depend on tobacco farming and processing as a source of occupation and livelihood."
Ghersetti presented no evidence to support the above claims against tobacco regulation. For research which counters the concerns of an increase in illicit trade as a result of tobacco control policy, particularly plain packaging please see: Countering Industry Arguments Against Plain Packaging: It will Lead to Increased Smuggling.
Countering a Campaign of UK Health Advocates
In September 2011, an article in the UK newspaper The Independent revealed that Bell Pottinger had been using FOI requests to undermine a health campaign that warned of the dangers of Roll Your Own tobacco use, and was run by SmokeFree South West.
Initially SmokeFree South West received an informal FOI request via email from Bell Pottinger’s David Petrie, followed by a formal FOI request for the same information from Big Brother Watch, a right-wing libertarian campaign group co-founded by Bell Pottinger’s Alex Deane.
Neither Bell Pottinger nor Big Brother Watch declared they held discussions with each other. Despite evidence that Imperial Tobacco was Bell Pottinger's client, Bell Pottinger denied any link when asked: “We don't work on behalf of other groups. We only work on behalf of ourselves... We've got no formal links with anyone in the tobacco industry".
- More details on this story can be read on our FOI: SmokeFree South West page.
Slammed for Being “Unethical and Unprofessional”
In September 2017, Bell Pottinger was expelled from the British PR trade association PRCA for five years following a scandal that exposed a Bell Pottinger campaign for as being “unethical and unprofessional”, and “bringing the PR and communications industry into disrepute with its actions”.
The punishment followed a PRCA investigation into a complaint from the Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s main opposition party, that a Bell Pottinger campaign for Oakbay Capital “had sought to stir up anger about ‘white monopoly capital’ and the ‘economic apartheid’ in South Africa. Oakbay Capital is the holding company of the Gupta family, who have been accused of benefiting financially from their close ties to South Africa president Zuma.
Bell Pottinger initially denied any wrongdoing and claimed that it had been the victim of a smear campaign involving “totally false and damaging accusations”, but later conceded that it had run an “inappropriate and offensive” social media campaign for the Gupta family. James Henderson, Bell Pottinger’s Chief Executive, resigned the day before the PRCA expelled the firm, and on 12 September 2017 it was reported that Bell Pottinger had gone into administration after it “ suffered an exodus of clients and increasing losses in the wake of the scandal”.
- Lobby Groups
- PR Companies
- EU Tobacco Products Directive Revision
- Plain Packaging
- Countering Industry Arguments against Plain Packaging
- And to read more about the tobacco industry’s tactic of hiding behind third parties, including PR and law firms, click on Third Party Techniques
- The revision of the 2014 European tobacco products directive: an analysis of the tobacco industry’s attempts to ‘break the health silo’, S. Peeters, H. Costa, D. Stuckler, M. McKee, A.B. Gilmore, 2016, Tobacco Control; 25:108-117
- Quantifying the influence of tobacco industry on EU governance: automated content analysis of the EU Tobacco Products Directive, H. Costa, A.B. Gilmore, S. Peeters, M. McKee, D. Stuckler, 2014, Tobacco Control; 23:473-478
- Bell Pottinger website, About Bell Pottinger, undated, accessed January 2017
- M. Sweney, Bell Pottinger could go under within days, sources claim, The Guardian, 7 September 2017, accessed September 2017
- M. Sweney, Bell Pottinger expelled from PR trade body after South Africa racism row, The Guardian, 4 September 2017, accessed September 2017
- PRCA, PRCA announces expulsion of Bell Pottinger, undated, accessed September 2017
- M. Sweney, Bell Pottinger goes into administration amid South Africa scandal, The Guardian, 12 September 2017, accessed September 2017
- Big Brother Watch, Nick pickles appointed new big brother watch director, http://www.bigbrotherwatch.org.uk, September 2011, accessed September 2011
- FTI Consulting, Our People: Daniel Hamilton, undated, accessed September 2017
- Weber Shandwick, Meet the Team, http://webershandwick.co.uk, undated, accessed January 2012
- FTI Consulting, Our People: Alex Deane, undated, accessed September 2017
- Tobacco Manufacturer’s Association, Financial Summary Year Ended 31 March 2001, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, 31 March 2001, Bates no: 325047990-325048004, accessed 30 January 2012
- Bell Pottinger, Key People: Dan de Belder, Partner Financial, http://www.bellpottinger.com, accessed January 2017
- G. Spanier, Bell Pottinger was a scapegoat, says new boss James Henderson who’s on a recovery mission, London Evening Standard 13 March 2013, accessed March 2015
- UK Public Affairs Council, UKPAC Register Period 1 September to 30 November 2014: Bell Pottinger LLP entry, http://www.lobbying-register.uk/about-/register-archive, accessed January 2017
- PRCA, Public Affairs Agency Register September to November 2014: Bell Pottinger LLP, http://www.prca.org.uk, accessed March 2015
- K. Doran, Email from Doran to Michael Gremminger dated 7 July 2011 3.46 PM, subject: Review of the Tobacco Products Directive, London. Email released under Freedom of Information legislation.
- M. Gremminger, Email response from Gremminger to Kevin Doran dated 11 July 2011 10.34AM, Brussels. Email released under Freedom of Information legislation.
- T. Ghersetti, Email from Ghersetti to Fernando Perreau de Pinnick, dated 7 October 2011 5:14PM, subject: Imperial Tobacco meeting with officials in DG Trade. Email released under Freedom of Information legislation.
- S. Connor, Smoke and Mirrors: how the tobacco industry hides behind lobbyists, The Independent, 3 September 2011, accessed March 2015
- PRCA, Public Affairs Agency Register March to May 2011: Bell Pottinger LLP entry, http://www.prca.org.uk, accessed March 2015
- PRCA, Public Affairs Agency Register June to August 2011: Bell Pottinger LLP entry, http://www.prca.org.uk, accessed March 2015
- PRCA, Public Affairs Agency Register September to November 2011: Bell Pottinger LLP entry, http://www.prca.org.uk, accessed March 2015
- R. Millard, [KPMG chiefs ousted in South Africa scandal: Probe reveals accountants attended tainted tycoon’s wedding], thisismoney.co.uk, 15 September 2017, accessed September 2017