Brand Blunder #78: PR firm invokes the ghost of apartheid

When your business is about creating news for others, it’s best not to become the news yourself.

None-the-less, British public relations firm Bell Pottinger finds itself forced to defend its own reputation over work it performed for a controversial South African company.

Emails leaked to media suggest the PR company designed a social media campaign which invoked racial tensions in the South Africa – a particularly grave allegation in a country still rebuilding from the apartheid era.

The campaign for Oakbay, a company believed to hold significant sway with SA President Jacob Zuma’s government, reportedly aimed to raise awareness about ‘economic apartheid’. Critics allege the campaign was designed to distract attention from allegations of corruption embroiling the president.

Bell Pottinger’s chief executive issued an apology, stating that his firm’s management had been misled by some employees about the campaign. He terminated one staffmember and suspended another three.

However, there are continuing calls for the firm to go further, donating the full proceeds of its work to an appropriate local charity.


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