Hanover aims to gain from Bell Pottinger’s scandalous demise
Hanover aims to gain from Bell Pottinger’s scandalous demise
“It was serendipitous,” said Jonty Summers, managing director of the Middle East business of the London-based consultancy Hanover Communications, which took over Bell Pottinger’s regional arm last year.
The owners, shareholders and staff at Bell Pottinger would not use the same word to describe the collapse of the firm after a scandal in South Africa that involved allegations of racism, kleptocracy and social media manipulation.
The British PR firm was put up for sale after its client in the country, the Gupta family, were exposed as perpetrators of “state capture” — taking over the money-making institutions of South Africa in collusion with a corrupt government. It was the biggest scandal to hit the PR world for many years.
Hanover — which was started in 1998 by Charles Lewington, a former British government media adviser — saw an opportunity in the Middle East, where Bell Pottinger was one of the established names with a presence going back decades with some big clients, especially government-related corporates.
“The original plan was to grow the business for Hanover here just through hard work, but when Bell Pottinger came along it made sense,” Summers explained.
Summers is not concerned that any of the dirt from the Gupta scandal has stuck to Bell Pottinger in the region, nor that there will be any legacy at the merged entity. “Our London management does not suffer from the same traits that Bell Pottinger’s used to. We are decent people who believe in treating others in the way we would like to be treated,” he said.
“The critical difference between the two companies is our respective approach to ethics. The Bell Pottinger Middle East team was a separately run business, with a good client list, let down by poor leadership that did not operate to the same rigorous standards as Hanover. We have conducted extensive due diligence on their clients and are absolutely committed to operating the combined business to the highest ethical standards. We have a robust ethics and conflict policy,” he added.
The acquisition of Bell Pottinger’s Middle East arm gives Hanover an immediate quantum leap in size, adding 17 executives to its payroll for a total strength of 20 — half of them Arabs or Arabic-speaking — with Archie Berens, the former Bell Pottinger boss in the region, chairman of the new business.
It also adds big clients like Aldar, S&P and Senaat to the list of corporates it services in the region. “None of the Bell Pottinger clients in the region left because of the Gupta scandal,” said Summers.
The strategy is to focus on high-end corporate communications advice, with a particular emphasis on those sectors where Hanover already has expertise — health care, financial services, technology and sports — via its global business based in London, Brussels and Dublin.
There, it already services clients like Facebook, Apple and Goldman Sachs, all of which have a big presence in the UAE. One aspiration is that some of that global business might be persuaded to go with Hanover in the Middle East as well; another is to add to the select list of “crisis communication” clients it already has in the region.
Does all this add up to a sound commercial strategy in a highly competitive market? The Middle East has seen an influx of international communications firms over the past decade, especially in the UAE. The opening up of Saudi Arabia under the Vision 2030 strategy has added to this competition, with many firms using the Emirates as a base for operations in the Kingdom.
“It’s no more competitive than London or New York. People will always want advice from good consultants, especially on the top-end strategic side. There aren’t as many good ones as you’d think in that space,” said Summers.
“Our growth has been funded by the profit we make from client work. We have no debt. The big networks are reporting a slowdown but our growth is bucking this trend,” he added.
Summers sees Saudi Arabia as a part of the Hanover strategy in the region, though admitted there are no immediate plans to open an office in the Kingdom nor fly “armies of PR men into Riyadh every Sunday morning,” as he put it.
The London-based Lewington was involved in the 1990s at the tail end of the big privatization drive set in train by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and continued by her successor, John Major, whom Lewington served, and was regarded as a specialist in privatization messaging, especially on the consumer benefits of state sell-offs.
“In Saudi Arabia, it’s likely that demand will rise for strategic corporate communications consultants with an understanding of the culture of the region who can help Saudi companies put plans in place to navigate some of the complexities of privatization,” said Summers.
How did they react to #WhatChanged as Arab News celebrates its 43rd anniversary
- The changes are all part of a future plan entitled Arab News 2020 to coincide with the paper’s 45th anniversary that year
- Arab News has opened bureaus in London, Dubai and Pakistan and has hired some of the best industry talent
Arab News — the region leading English-language daily — celebrates its 43rd anniversary with a relaunch, described by Editor in Chief Faisal J. Abbas as “The biggest shake-up the paper has had throughout its 43-year history.”
The changes are all part of a future plan entitled Arab News 2020 to coincide with the paper’s 45th anniversary that year.
The paper’s metamorphosis coincides neatly with the transformation taking place in Saudi Arabia as the country embraces an ambitious reform program as part of the Vision 2030 which, among other things, is redefining the local media industry.
Arab News, which is owned by the Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG), has opened bureaus in London, Dubai and Pakistan and has hired some of the best industry talent, made significant changes to its workflow structure and rewritten its editorial policy.
Here are the reactions to the change:
I think Arab News readers will not just embrace the changes to the newspaper, they will love them. If there’s one region that can adapt to change rapidly, then it’s the Arab world. The new newspaper is clean, it’s crisp, it’s modern — and those things are essential for a modern newspaper. It’s no longer enough to tell readers what happened yesterday, because this is the 21st century, they already know. They want context, analysis. They don’t just want to know what happened, but why it happened, how it happened, and how it’s going to change their lives and what it means for them — and I think any modern newspaper has to do that.
Dubai Bureau Chief
I am very happy about the new launch. I grew up with the Arab News, I used to read the newspaper ever since I was 8 or 9 and if I didn’t, my dad would always come in and ask us about headlines. It really has contributed to my sense of understanding of the world, so for me to see the change happening, the whole world, the universe is changing and when you look at it from that perspective, from a universal one then it’s bound to happen. We change, every day we’re changing skin! I think that the fact that it’s launched the way it did and, honestly, under the leadership of (Editor in Chief) Faisal J. Abbas, I think it’s going to go really high and I’m excited to see where it’s going to go next.
Saudi Shoura Council Member
What we needed to do — after 43 years, with one of the oldest English newspapers in the region — is to give it a modern day look and feel. So what we started is to give it a revamp — from the masthead down to every single page. And then we looked at the digital side of things as well — we revamped the website and also we looked at social media platforms.
Head of Operations
Congratulations to a friend and colleague Faisal Abbas, and the entire team on the launch of Arab News’ revamped edition. Change is what gives meaning to life at the break of every dawn.
Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthi
Former Editor in Chief
Arab News is an old, venerable brand with lots of legacy, going back to the 1970s. The redesigned paper is bold, I think it makes a statement. I think it says here we are, we’re modern. Arab News has gone more international, we are no longer just a Saudi newspaper — there are bureaus around the world and that will increase further.
Business Columnist, Dubai
I think Arab News has a big role in changing the concept of believing in youth, culture and innovation. With the new concept of Arab News, the new Arab News, I can see positive change is coming to the region, positive change coming to the youth, positive energy, lots of building the capabilities of the youth is needed more than ever. The leadership of Arab News is so powerful to give us also a great example of how change can be done.
Director-General of the Government of Dubai Media Office
I think the reveal (of the new Arab News identity) was done in a very professional manner, I think it was eye-catching, and it expressed everything that Arab News has to say. The new design is lovely, it has to go and continue because with changing times patterns change, you have a new audience so it has to go with the flow. The framework with Arab News was that there’s no drastic change ... people can still recognize that this is the Arab News.
Former Editor in Chief
A sharp black and white (masthead) makes it all blunt and straight to the point, which is what takes the news to the second level. The brand says a lot, it has an ambitious, modern touch to it.
Government of Dubai Media Office
If you read the newspaper 18 months ago, you would not recognize it compared with what it is today. We have built a network of correspondents around the world, we have opened new bureaus. We have employed some of the finest, most experienced journalists on the planet. And we are doing some fantastic stories and scoops and interviews with world leaders, all with an Arab slant, or reflecting on the region in some way. The Middle East is probably the most misunderstood region in the world; a lot of people have preconceptions about the region. Arab News is helping meet demand for real news about the region, and helping to address some of the misunderstandings.
London Bureau Chief
The new Arab News is outstanding.
Former Deputy Editor in Chief