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‘Overnight we found the company was gone’: How Bell Pottinger Asia recovered from the London scandal

The collapse of Bell Pottinger not only took the PR world by surprise, but was a shock the management of the Asian operations, said Mark Worthington, managing director of the rebranded Klareco Communications.

“Overnight we found the company had gone,” Worthington told the Mumbrella Commscon conference held in Sydney, Australia, revealing the Singapore office only found out about the UK operation’s collapse from a staff member seconded to the London HQ.

Kloreco’s Ang (centre) and Worthington (right) with Mumbrella’s Abigail Dawson

Worthington, along with CEO Ang Shih-Huei, described how the agency scrambled to save its client base in the wake of the collapse of the high-profile communication agency’s London office.

Bell Pottinger folded spectacularly in 2017 after the South African Mail and the Guardian revealed the agency had engaged in a dirty tricks campaign to support the politically connected Gupta family’s business interests in the country.

As the size of the scandal became apparent, British clients fled the business, forcing it into liquidation in September 2017.

Worthington was scathing about the London office’s performance as the crisis developed: “I don’t want to speak ill of people who have now found themselves in quite difficult situations but, I mean, had they done anything, it would have been probably better than what what they actually did.

What it would look like to us or to many people in the industry was paralysis. They were not communicating internally or externally, they didn’t seem to have a plan, any action was slow and ultimately when they did come out with some words, because they had no action, they were treated as empty.”

Looking to save the Asian operation from London’s fate, Worthington and Ang looked to buy Bell Pottinger’s 90% stake in the Singapore-based business.

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