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EDINBURGH — South Africans are pinning their hopes on the UK industry Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) body bringing Bell Pottinger to book for inciting racism in SA and furthering the interests of President Jacob Zuma and his corrupt clique. Bell Pottinger worked with President Zuma’s son Duduzane, a Gupta employee, to develop the ‘white monopoly capital’ myth. The Gupta family has generated revenue through corruption and state capture. The London-headquartered PR company – part-owned by Sol Kerzner’s ex-wife Heather – ran a smear campaign against another Bell Pottinger client, Johann Rupert of Richemont. At the same time, Bell Pottinger was taking money from SA Tourism to promote the country. This week it emerged that Bell Pottinger chairman Kevin Read was on the board of the body investigating Bell Pottinger’s activities until recently. The body held the probe behind closed doors. PRWeek reports this week that Read has resigned from the board of the PRCA. There will undoubtedly be questions about whether he was able to influence the outcome of the PRCA hearing before his departure. — Jackie Cameron
By Thulisizwe Sithole
Kevin Read, who is currently on sabbatical from a senior role at Bell Pottinger’s Engage division, has resigned from the board of the PRCA after less than a year in post, the UK industry news service PRWeek reported earlier this week.
He had become a director of the trade body’s board of management, an unpaid position, in October 2016, said PRWeek.
In a brief statement, PRCA director general Francis Ingham said: “We can confirm that Kevin Read has stood down from the Board of Management of the PRCA. We would like to thank Mr. Read for his contribution to the PRCA.”
PRWeek does not indicate whether Kevin Read stepped away from this position before he was able to influence the outcome of the hearing, which was held in secret to the dismay of South Africans hoping to see UK PR industry practitioners demonstrate accountability. However, Kevin Read Tweeted on 22 August that he was “stepping down” from the PRCA board, which suggests his decision to depart comes after the hearing on 18 August.
“Kevin Read is currently on sabbatical from Bell Pottinger until October 2017, and is writing a book on the ‘art of pitching’. Although he is the chair of Engage, the agency’s new brand and consumer PR offering, he was absent from its launch event at the start of the year,” said PRWeek.
It underscored that Bell Pottinger’s chief executive James Henderson spent 18 August in a hearing with the PRCA over its highly controversial work with South African client Oakbay Investments.
Profile: Kevin Read, chairman of Bell Pottinger
In January, PRMoment.com ran a light-touch Q&A profile on Kevin Read, the Bell Pottinger heavyweight who has stepped away from a role with the PRCA.
PRMoment.com: What did you want to be when you were a teenager?
Kevin Read: Looking back I always knew that I wanted a role in commerce. My family was always involved with small business ventures. On my father’s side there were pawnbrokers. My mum always emphasised the need for a good education and to aim high. There was no tradition of seeking out a profession. Because of the disruption of the Second World War both of my parents left school without any qualifications.
However, during my school years I had two great loves. As a very young teenager I adored mathematics, and later as a spotted youth I found that I could play a mean game of chess – leaving school as the only chess captain to have achieved the league and cup double.
PRMoment.com: Would your teenage self be pleased with the way things have turned out?
Kevin Read: My teenage self would have been bewildered by the working life I have pursued. Working at the House of Commons, for an array of Liberal Democrat MPs, early in my career, brought me into contact with politicians, policy makers and an array of celebrities. In my agency life I have had the great privilege of meeting and working with inspirational leaders. I have worked with brilliant writers, exceptional creative people and clients who have both driven and shaped the world of communications.
PRMoment.com: How did you get your first break?
Kevin Read: I got my first break by spending 48 hours mugging up on the UK higher education policy prior to an interview with the Liberal Democrat MP, Simon Hughes, who at the time was the party’s education spokesperson. Working with Simon, a barrister before entering parliament, taught me how to shape, refine and deliver an argument.
PRMoment.com: What is the best career decision you have made?
Kevin Read: Having spent three years working in communications and marketing in the NHS for London’s leading teaching hospitals, including a spell at St Thomas where I worked with Simon Stevens, now the chief executive of the NHS, I decided that I needed to gain wider experience of business and set out to find a role in a consultancy.
And it was to the Quentin Bell Organisation I headed – having been put through my paces by ace coach and writer, Francis Hallawell, and rising star, Sally Costerton.
PRMoment.com: Any career regrets?
Kevin Read: Heading into the world of politics and speech writing meant I left behind an unfinished MPhil, looking at the emergence, and politicisation, of the middle class in Northern English towns at the end of 18th century.
As far as PR consultancy is concerned I would have loved to have taken on a major regional or global consultancy role.
PRMoment.com: Why Bell Pottinger?
Kevin Read: It is an amazing environment. Intellectually challenging. Fantastic clients. Partners that have freedom to pursue their interests. It is a hive of entrepreneurial activity.
And it has kindly allowed me to take a six-month sabbatical at the beginning of 2017 to complete a book on ‘The Business of Pitching’.
PRMoment.com: What are the greatest challenges of your present role?
Kevin Read: Bring together five distinct practices; corporate, brand, digital, design and consumer, to create a single P+L. Introducing new ways of working and outlooks so that a genuinely new and fresh offer will be able to the market at the beginning of 2017.
As chairman the role is to test and curate, be the architect, challenge and generally nudge everyone in a common, progressive and responsive direction. A journey made easier my staying close to what clients and the market demands.
PRMoment.com: What advice can you give to others in the communications industry?
Kevin Read: Be brave. Stand up for what you believe in. Work with the best people you can – and never stop seeking to learn and uncover best practice.
For more on the role of Bell Pottinger in corruption and state capture, see:
London-headquartered global public relations company Bell Pottinger has been in the news in South Africa as a result of the work it did following its appointment by the Gupta family in March 2016 on a monthly retainer of £100 000. The firm resigned the account in April 2017 and in July issued a “full, unequivocal, absolute” apology for the role it had played in destabilising South Africa.
From Bell Pottinger CEO James Henderson: “I am writing on behalf of Bell Pottinger and its employees in relation to an article being published on your website entitled “How Bell Pottinger REALLY works: Ugly Hitler video shatters PR myths” which is available here: https://www.biznews.com/leadership/2017/08/17/how-bell-pottinger-hitler-video/ (“the Article”) and following contact from your journalist to James Thomlinson who is the subject of the Article.”
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