Bell Pottinger: Key players and controversial clients
LONDON — Lord Bell, Margaret Thatcher’s favourite PR man when she was prime minister, co-founded Bell Pottinger in 1987.
The agency has standard corporate clients, such as the construction group Carillion and the car dealership Lookers, but over the past three decades it has also taken on highly sensitive geo-political PR accounts and other controversial clients.
These include the Pinochet Foundation; Syria’s first lady, Asma al-assad; the governments of Bahrain and Egypt; Oscar Pistorius, after he was charged with murder; FW de Klerk, when he ran against Nelson Mandela for president; and Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian dictator.
It also emerged last year that Bell Pottinger had been paid £500m to make propaganda videos in Iraq on behalf of the US government. They included short news segments made to look like Arabic news networks and fake insurgent videos.
Key players in the SA scandal
The Guptas and the Zumas — the Zuptas
The wealthy, powerful and controversial Guptas have been described as “the most hated family in South Africa”.
The Gupta brothers moved from India to South Africa in 1993 and developed a very close relationship with Jacob Zuma and his family, becoming billionaires along the way.
They have been widely accused of using ties to Zuma to influence government decisions.
Zuma’s son, Duduzane, has been a director of several Gupta-owned companies as well as working for Oakbay, the business at the centre of the scandal.
The Guptas started out with a computer business, but over 25 years have developed a conglomerate that includes coal and uranium mines, air travel, energy and manufacturing, a TV station and a national newspaper.
The 34-year-old was Bell Pottinger’s partner leading the Gupta account.
Geoghegan met Duduzane Zuma to discuss and ultimately run what would ultimately become the “economic emancipation” campaign. As the scandal escalated a Facebook campaign with pictures of her and the word “wanted” appeared.
Geoghegan was a high flyer at the firm she joined 12 years ago. As recently as December she was still rapidly climbing the corporate ladder, being appointed managing director of Bell Pottinger’s financial and corporate division.
She resigned from Bell Pottinger on 6 July, when she was seven months pregnant and due to go on maternity leave. The same day the PR agency issued an “unequivocal and absolute” apology for the campaign.
Henderson was one of the engineers of the £20m management buyout of the Bell Pottinger PR business from parent company Chime, alongside Lord Bell, when it was taken over by WPP and the US equity firm Providence Equity Partners in 2012.
He took the role of chief executive and is the largest individual shareholder in the PR business. He maintains he knew nothing about the South Africa campaign, but stood down on Sunday, saying that “as chief executive I have ultimate executive responsibility for Bell Pottinger”.
Bell left the PR agency that carries his name last summer. He has since said that one of the reasons he decided to leave was his unease over the Oakbay account.
Bellsaid his warnings that the Gupta account was “smelly” were ignored by senior management he told, including Henderson. The agency has reportedly denied he voiced his concerns.
Ever the risk-taker, when Bell quit the firm last year he immediately set up a new business called Sans Frontieres, the same name as the arm of Bell Pottinger that handled sometimes controversial geo-political work. — Guardian
Bell Pottinger fired partner Victoria Geoghegan and suspended three more staff members after sustained pressure by South African civic society into its relationships with the Guptas