Published on Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Travel PR firm banned from trade body after controversial campaign

A public relations company that represents several major UK and international travel brands has been expelled by a UK trade body.

Bell Pottinger, whose portfolio of travel clients includes London City Airport, Boeing, Qatar Airways and Air Transat, was given a five-year ban by the Public Relations Communications Association for bringing the PR industry into disrepute.

The firm, which is one of the UK's leading PR companies, was found to have run a secret campaign to cause racial tension in South Africa. The PRCA said Bell Pottinger was 'unethical and unprofessional' after it investigated allegations made by South Africa's opposition party that the firm was paid £100,000 a month by client Oakbay Capital to stir up anger about 'white monopoly capital' and 'economic apartheid'.

Bell Pottinger was founded almost 30 years ago by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's spin doctor Lord Bell, who left the business last year.

Chief executive James Henderson resigned from the company on Sunday, saying that although he was not involved with Oakbay, he accepted responsibility for Bell Pottinger.

The firm said it intended to continue in business by abiding with the PRCA code of ethical conduct on a voluntary basis and that many of its staff would apply to join the trade body as individuals.

"The overwhelming majority of our partners and employees played no part in the Oakbay Capital account and have not been accused of breaching the PRCA code," it said. "Many of them will now consider applying for individual membership."

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