• Transform magazine
  • September 23, 2017

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Bell Pottinger Asia rebrands amid South Africa racism row

Singapore Bell Pott.jpg

It has not been a good week for Bell Pottinger. On Monday, trade body the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), which oversees global public relations standards, announced a unanimous decision to expel Bell Pottinger’s membership for a minimum of five years following accusations of a racially-charged social media campaign in South Africa.

Then multiple Bell Pottinger clients, including HSBC and TalkTalk, severed their contracts. The firm is reportedly also haemorrhaging staff. Now, Bell Pottinger’s Asian arm has announced its disaffiliation with the public relations firms, including a total overhaul of its brand name and visual identity.

Bell Pottinger Asia announced its decision to rebrand after a turbulent week in which the South Africa racism scandal consumed the public relations firm’s London office. The rebrand, which includes a new name ‘Klareco Communications,’ is a clear attempt by Bell Pottinger Asia to distance itself from the disgraced parent company. The rebrands also displays the firm’s commitment to the ethical standards expected by the PRCA – despite Bell Pottinger Asia’s generally positive reputation among its clients in the region.

Speaking of the decision to expel Bell Pottinger from the PRCA earlier this week, Francis Ingham MPRCA, director general at the PRCA, says, “Bell Pottinger has brought the PR and communications industry into disrepute with its actions, and it has received the harshest possible sanctions. The PRCA has never before passed down such a damning indictment of an agency’s behaviour. This outcome reflects the huge importance that the PRCA places on the protection of ethical standards in the business of PR and communications.”

Given the taboo now surrounding the Bell Pottinger name, nowhere is change so crucial as the firm’s verbal identity. Breaking completely from the previous identity, the firm has adopted ‘Klareco’ as its moniker. This translates to ‘clarity’ in Esperanto. According to the Guardian, use of this constructed, international language, which was created in 1887 with the intention of overcoming global language obstacles, is key in moving the Asian operation forward.

“Esperanto is the international language of hope and harmony. We have chosen it because it reflects the true values of us here and is something [that reflects] a clean break and that is what we have done,” says chairman of Bell Pottinger Asia, and co-founder of Bell Pottinger, Piers Pottinger.

This clear commitment to transparency and moral standards is also crucial in establishing the Bell Pottinger Asia’s place as a global communications firm able to withstand future challenges born from the currently turbulent public relations climate. Speaking to the Straits Times, Bell Pottinger Asia chief executive Ang Shih-Huei explains how there should be no problem going forward under a new identity. "We built this agency from the ground up,” says Shih-Huei. “We needed a big brand name to park under and we chose Bell Pottinger, but we didn't set it up like a satellite office. We've been run independently and autonomously.”

"I do want to emphasise this company has always held itself to the highest standards and we have turned clients away that didn't fit with our values. Sadly, an incident by a small team has been blown out of proportion, and action has been taken but today we still find ourselves dealing with it. We hope staff and clients stay firm and strong,” Shih-Huei says.

With its headquarters in Singapore and satellite offices in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Kuala Lumpar and Myanmar, Bell Pottinger Asia – or Klareco – seems to have taken the correct steps to keep its head above water in the region. This is despite a current lack of visual identity, which will presumably soon be published. As for Bell Pottinger’s London office, accountancy firm BDO is still trying to find willing buyers. This is looking increasingly unlikely, however; sources say the firm is likely to go into administration as soon as Monday.