25/08/2017 06:50 SAST | Updated 25/08/2017 06:50 SAST

What's Next For Bell Pottinger? Massive Reputational Risk If Appeal Fails

While no one can stop Bell Pottinger from practicing, it could lose clients, the PRCA says.

Neil Hall / Reuters
Phumzile Van Damme of the Democratic Alliance National speaks outide the Bell Pottinger offices in London, Britain August 18, 2017. REUTERS.Neil Hall

While PR firm Bell Pottinger cannot be forced to stop practicing in the United Kingdom or elsewhere, if any appeals against a guilty finding by the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) against it fail, its reputational damage could be punishment enough.

The Times reported on Friday the PRCA would await the outcome of any possible appeals, following its decision that Bell Pottinger had breached at least one ethical code, during its campaign for the Gupta family. But should Bell Pottinger be found guilty when the association releases its full ruling on September 4, the damage to the firm could see it losing business.

This follows a hearing on Friday into the controversial UK PR firm's work for the Gupta-owned Oakbay Investments, following a complaint by the Democratic Alliance.

Ahead of the hearing, the PRCA said if the committee were to reject the complaint, then this would be announced by the end of Wednesday, reported PR Week. No such announcement has been made.

Phumzile Van Damme, DA shadow minister of communications, said the party had received confirmation that its complaint had been upheld, and Bell Pottinger had five days to appeal.

She told HuffPost SA on Wednesday:

"Obviously we are cautiously optimistic because we don't know what the ruling says exactly, but what we can say for now is that we eagerly await the ruling on the 4th of September."

Nicholas Dunn-McAfee, the PRCA's head of public affairs, policy and research, told The Times that until the process was completed, it could not comment on the findings as the outcome could change.

"That announcement should be made by September 4. But what we can do is terminate their membership, which carries a huge reputational risk for a PR firm. Many of our clients would look at this and not use agencies which have been kicked out of the association for unethical behaviour," he reportedly said.