Bell Pottinger Group
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Holmes Report
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Bell Pottinger Group

Full-service public relations with strong corporate, financial and public affairs capabilities; UK

Holmes Report


Every economic downturn is accompanied by predictions that public relations will prove to be counter-cyclical, or at least more resilient than related business. The reality has not always lived up to those expectations, but the performance of Bell Pottinger Group suggests that for some firms at least the most recent downturn presented an opportunity rather than a threat.
The firm, founded by Tim (now Lord) Bell in 1986, saw its public relations income improve by 8 percent in 2009, ending the year with fees of £60 million, up 8 percent at a time when the public relations operations of major communications holdings companies such as Interpublic, Omnicom and WPP were declining—some of them by double digits. The first half of 2010 saw another 5 percent growth, and a 17 percent improvement in operating profit.
New group chief executive Paul Bell attributes that success to a couple of factors. The first is the firm’s diversity of both discipline and geography: the Bell Pottinger Group includes firms focused on public affairs, corporate and financial communications, consumer marketing, healthcare and technology, and while the largest offices are in its U.K. headquarters market, the firm now has international operations in Bahrain, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Hamburg, Munich, Brussels, Boston, New York, Washington DC and Tampa. The second is that Bell Pottinger has become better at providing integrated solutions—shared clients now account for 60 percent of group revenues—making it even more mission-critical to clients.
An outside observer might also point to the quality of leadership, including Bell himself. Certainly, Bell Pottinger can draw on an array of senior talent as broad and deep as any firm in the U.K. Group chairman Kevin Murray was previously director of communications for British Airways; Bell ascended to his current role after leading the Bell Pottinger team that specializes in international affairs, particularly security issues and conflict resolution. Tim Ryan, former director of communications for NTL, leads the international Bell Pottinger Group; political veteran Peter Bingle and former Thatcher speechwriter Tim Collins lead the public affairs operation; eight-year Gulf veteran Tim Mollo leads the Middle East; Michael Frohlich leads the Resonate consumer consultancy; and David Wilson and Tersesa Anne Dunleavy lead the Bell Pottinger Public Relations and Good Relations units respectively (both are profiled separately in this publication).
A significant development in 2010 saw the integration of financial communications consultancy Pelham into the firm’s own corporate and financial offer to create Pelham Bell Pottinger. James Henderson, who founded Pelham in 2004 after 15 years at College Hill, became managing director of the merger operation.
And as part of Chime Communications, one of the world’s leading marketing and communications groups, Bell Pottinger can draw on the resources of 22 agencies in 11 countries, employing 400 people with a range of skills and expertise in multiple sectors. There isn’t much that the firm can’t do, in other words, but some distinguishing capabilities include international strategy counsel, crisis and issues management, internal communications and change management, corporate social responsibility and sustainability, and reputation counsel.
The firm works for a mix of corporate and government clients, including big names such as Emirates, Muller, BPEX, Bahrain, Hewlett Packard, the Qatar Foundation, HSBC, SAB Miller, Unilever, Sportech, Sony and Abbott Healthcare, while significant new business successes over the past 12 months resulted in new assignments from Nokia, Nintendo,, Coca Cola enterprises, Airbus Global,, Talk Talk, Kurt Geiger, Qatar Holdings, Port of Dover, Homesun, United Arab Emirates University, and the United Nations.
Not surprisingly, the firm frequently finds itself involved in communications strategy and execution around some of the most significant issues of the day. High-profile assignments over the past 12 months included the Madrid bid for 2016 Olympic Games, a global HSBC campaign on future retirement issues, the launch of the Emirates 380 fleet, development of a community outreach programme for AstraZeneca, the Stop Child Trafficking campaign for The Body Shop, support for Eurostar following the publication of the independent review, Qatar Holdings’ acquisition of Harrods, and the launch of the 2011 Gorbachev Birthday Charity event.

“What sets Bell Pottinger apart is the ability to listen and get things right the first time,” says Lynn Plant, head of NHS Choice implementation communications. “The strategy, quality of the work and speed of response times was outstanding”
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