Bell Pottinger Asia studying options, including change of name

Bell Pottinger, a London-based PR agency, has been in crisis mode over the past week as a result of a racially divisive social media campaign in South Africa.
Bell Pottinger, a London-based PR agency, has been in crisis mode over the past week as a result of a racially divisive social media campaign in South Africa. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - The management of public relations agency Bell Pottinger Asia is studying various options, including a name change, as it seeks to move on from a crisis that has engulfed its British parent.

Bell Pottinger Asia chief executive Ang Shih-Huei told The Straits Times on Thursday (Sept 7): "It's because of the good work we've done in Asia that we have options, among them a name change. We will do what is best for the team and the clients."

Bell Pottinger, a London-based PR agency, has been in crisis mode over the past week as a result of a racially divisive social media campaign in South Africa.

The firm has put itself up for sale after being expelled from Britain's PR industry body and losing several clients.

Its chief executive officer and majority shareholder, Mr James Henderson, and the head of its financial PR division,Mr John Sunnucks, have quit.

Bell Pottinger Asia, which represents major corporations in sectors such as energy, property and transportation, has spent the past weeks reassuring its regional clients that as a separate legal entity from its parent, its operations in Asia are continuing as normal.

It has made clear to clients that it has a separate Asian management team which remains intact: a chairman, CEO Ms Ang and four managing directors, one each for the four offices it has in Asia - Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Myanmar.

"We built this agency from the ground up. We needed a big brand name to park under and we chose Bell Pottinger, but we didn't set it up like a satellite office. We've been run independently and autonomously," said Ms Ang.

She added: "I do want to emphasise this company has always held itself to the highest standards and we have turned clients away that didn't fit with our values. Sadly an incident by a small team has been blown out of proportion, and action has been taken but today we still find ourselves dealing with it. We hope staff and clients stay firm and strong."

Bell Pottinger Singapore managing director Mark Worthington noted that clients in Singapore - all of whom were signed on locally and not via the London office - have been supportive, with some promising not to leave for other PR agencies.

"That gives great comfort to us and shows just how the work we've done here can help us ride out this storm that is blowing in from elsewhere," he said.