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Trouble for London PR Firms With Controversial International Ties

Anti-government protesters at Sanaa University in Yemen. Photo: Reuters/Ammar Awad

A number of London’s PR firms, including Bell Pottinger, the biggest in Britain, have come under fire for representing controversial clients, the London Evening Standard reports. In the case of Bell Pottinger, its client list includes the Egyptian Ministry of Information, the Economic Development Board of Bahrain, and it once worked with the Yemeni government.

“No amount of media harassment or sensationalism is going to stop me representing clients that have a legitimate right to tell their story,” Lord Bell, head of the firm and former comms adviser to Margaret Thatcher tells the paper.

Grayling has run into trouble for opening an office in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, which is run by an “authoritarian regime.” Huntsworth head Lord Chadlington says the firm doesn’t work with any foreign governments and only opened the office for client service purposes.

As the PRSA‘s Keith Trivitt pointed out in a tweet to us, this is an issue that the organization’s chair and CEO Rosanna Fiske addressed in her recent guest post on this site.

“These questions have caused many within public relations to pause and consider the role we play as the figurative “conscience” for the businesses we represent and counsel. Also of concern is that some PR firms and consultancies may welcome working with what most democratic societies consider the lowest of the low,” she wrote.

The London Evening Standard points out that “there are also few regulations that govern London PR firms, unlike in America, where firms working for foreign powers have to be registered with the authorities.” (Note: There are some U.S. firms mentioned here that may have some questionable clients as well.)

So would more American firms work with these sorts of clients if they didn’t have to register? Would increased regulation make London firms think twice? We don’t have answers to these questions, but feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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