Danny Rogers: An intriguing future awaits Bell Pottinger
By Danny Rogers, prweek.com, Thursday, 17 May 2012 08:00AM
With Lord Bell's buyout of Bell Pottinger from Chime now looking likely to take place next month, we are looking at the imminent break-up of Britain's biggest PR agency.
The Bell Pottinger collective - which ranged from Bell Pottinger Sans Frontieres to Harvard PR - has performed well for many years, notching up impressive growth even through the recession years, thanks to a broad geographical and sectoral spread of business.
So while the consumer and technology sectors were tough, it was able to more than compensate by strong growth in sports PR and corporate crisis work. Its holding company Chime was even more diverse, adding advertising and market research into this successful mix.
But now Chime chairman Lord Bell - along with co-founder Piers Pottinger - has decided on the apparently brave move (at the age of 70) of 'going narrow' again; buying out the City, corporate and public affairs work from Chime.
It is a tumultuous decision and one that has personally angered Sir Martin Sorrell, the boss of WPP, which has a 20 per cent stake in Chime. Sorrell and Bell, always unlikely colleagues, are old sparring partners from the 1980s advertising days.
However, this opposition doesn't look enough to prevent the deal going through. Chime will be happy concentrating on advertising, sports marketing and full-service PR.
And one wouldn't bet against Bell making a success of his soon-to-be-formed premium consultancy business, despite some recent travails.
Over the past year this side of Bell Pottinger's business has been hit by the double-whammy of the US government cancelling some big, lucrative PR contracts, and allegations of poor ethics against a number of the agency's consultants.
Bell, a right-wing libertarian, has always walked a fine line with his consultancy to controversial foreign regimes. This has upset some of his colleagues at Chime who have proven more sensitive to the continued media opprobrium.
But one also sees crucial strengths within the new outfit. Bell is a shrewd and charming operator who generates strong loyalty. He will take with him a number of experienced geopolitical consultants. And, importantly, he is likely to develop further James Henderson - boss of City outfit Pelham Bell Pottinger - who is a young and rising star of the PR world.
The new Bell Pottinger will be very different, but no less compelling. Chime, though a tad smaller, looks well positioned. And we can expect Sorrell's agencies to compete with Bell Pottinger with an intriguing extra edge.
This article was first published on prweek.com
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