Bell Pottinger is facing a PR crisis of its own making after being asked to answer for a South African social media campaign which it devised designed to bolster the standing of the billionaire Gupta family amidst claims that it was responsible for stirring racial tensions.
Representatives will attend a Friday hearing of the public relations and communications association (PRCA) disciplinary committee to refute claims that it was asked to enflame racial tensions by mounting a ‘hateful and divisive campaign’.
Bell Pottinger is accused of mounting a diversionary campaign geared toward fanning residual anger in the country against ‘white monopoly capital’ as a means of distracting attention from the Gupta’s, who are accused of using their immense wealth to influence president Jacob Zuma.
Amidst 100,000 leaked emails, collectively known as 'Guptagate', that the PR specialists were in receipt of as much as £100k a month from the Guptas to orchestrate the creation of fake Twitter accounts designed solely to target well-known white business people in the country.
This has led opposition leader Mmusi Maimane of the Democratic Alliance to call on the Chartered Institute of Public Relations to strike Bell Pottinger off its membership list.
Mounting pressure has forced Bell Pottinger chief executive James Henderson to fire Victoria Geogheghan, the partner responsible for masterminding the ‘inappropriate and offensive’ social media push. He said: “Much of what has been alleged about our work is, we believe, not true – but enough of it is to be of deep concern. We wish to issue a full, unequivocal and absolute apology to anyone impacted. These activities should never have been undertaken. We are deeply sorry that this happened.”
These words have failed to assuage some of Bell Pottinger’s biggest clients however; including Investec, the South African Tourist Board and luxury goods giant Cartier & Montblanc, all of whom have closed their accounts.
Bell Pottinger was revealed to have been in receipt of some $540m from the US Pentagon to wage a counter-propaganda war agianst Islamic State.