DUBLIN: Bank of Ireland is reassessing its UK public relations agency contract with Bell Pottinger, after the PR firm lost high-profile clients and was expelled from a key industry association in London as a result of work it carried out in South Africa on a racially-charged campaign. “We are reviewing the situation,” a spokesman for Bank of Ireland said in response to questions from The Irish Times on Wednesday. The UK’s Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) moved this week to ban Bell Pottinger from the association for a minimum of five years, mainly for stoking racial tensions in a campaign it led in support of South African president Jacob Zuma and his ruling party.
Banking giant HSBC, consultancy and accountancy firm EY and lender CYBG, led by former AIB chief executive David Duffy, are among a raft of groups that have dropped Bell Pottinger following the controversy. Meanwhile, the UK PR agency’s second-biggest shareholder, marketing firm Chime, has given up on trying to sell its 25 per cent stake in the company. Instead, it wrote off the holding and handed it back. The firm’s troubles began when South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, complained to the PRCA that Bell Pottinger’s campaign was trying to “divide and conquer” the South African public in order to keep Zuma and his party in power.
The campaign portrayed opponents of Mr Zuma as agents of “white monopoly capital”, with slogans referring to “economic apartheid”. These slogans gained traction in a country where the white minority still wields disproportionate economic power, two decades after the end of apartheid. The PRCA, which represents 400 businesses and 20,000 individuals, said the firm had purposely played on frayed race relations in the campaign. Work carried out by Bell Pottinger for Bank of Ireland includes work with Capital Economics on an extensive risk assessment and contingency planning exercises to prepare for the impact of Brexit. The UK accounts for 40 per cent of Bank of Ireland’s loan book, mainly through its joint venture with the British Post Office.