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The Bell Pottinger Fire Sale

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Published Date: October 17, 2017

In the wake of Bell Pottinger being expelled by the British PR industry’s trade body and losing a number of its biggest clients, administrators have recently been appointed to realise some value for its shareholders and creditors.

According to a number of reports, Bell Pottinger’s profits exceeded £10million in the financial year prior to the recent scandal. With this in mind, it was interesting for us to read (on Eyewitness News here) that the marketing and advertising agency Chime, dumped its 25% stake in the company effectively “donating” it back to the company. It was also at this time that there were rumours circling about a sale of the Bell Pottinger PR agency.

Our initial instinct here at IPLive when hearing about the potential sale of Bell Pottinger was, given the negative associations with the brand, that the brand may not be worth very much.

We had a couple of questions for Darren Olivier, a partner at Adams & Adams:

Nic: Darren, do you agree with me that the brand Bell Pottinger is not worth very much?

Darren: What I can agree with you on is that if I was starting a PR agency it would not make its way onto my top 10,000 potential names. It’s memorable, but for all the wrong reasons!

Nic: Nice sidestep there Darren! I’m going to ask you again: what do you think the Bell Pottinger brand is worth?

Darren: A brand’s value can be quantified in lots of ways one of those would be what someone would be willing to pay for it. If you asked me personally if I would buy the Bell Pottinger trade mark internationally for one South African Rand I would say “No thank you, it’ll be more useful to pay for my parking” (Ed’s note: Is he not using Wizzpass?)

If we consider this issue creatively, I could picture The Bell Pottinger Awards for example. Maybe The Bell Pottinger Awards could be the counterpoint to the Loeries rewarding the worst advertising and marketing campaigns. Kind of like what the Razzies is to the Academy Awards. In that context the brand could be… fitting.

Nic: What IP do you think Bell Pottinger owns that still might have some value for potential shareholders?

Darren: As I’ve said, unless you get creative the trade mark is not worth very much. However, if you took a look around there will be lots of IP left in the business that will have value. For example, the agency would potentially own:

  • hundreds, if not thousands of articles, blog posts, designs etc. that would be protected by copyright;
  • its databases, client lists and other confidentially held information; and
  • its own custom made software if they ever developed such a thing.

While it’s difficult to tell what these will be worth, I would not dismiss the potential value of all the IP left in the business too quickly.

Nic: So what do you think about the tough task ahead for the administrators?

Darren: I read recently that they made a number of staff members redundant and are trying to salvage what value they can that’s left in the business.

They could salvage value if they have contracts in place that cannot be unilaterally cancelled that perhaps they could sell off to another agency (potentially securing jobs for those employed on these accounts at the same time).

We also know that Bell Pottinger was very secretive of which clients they represent as they did have a penchant for representing controversial companies that many other PR firms may have turned away. Perhaps they’ve been representing quite a few controversial companies in secret and have been doing a good job? They could possibly still operate successfully in this limited space.

Nic: Thanks for your insights here, Darren.

Nic Rosslee
Darren Olivier

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