Do you ever read something in the news and actually face palm?

A real ‘d’oh…what on earth were they thinking’ moment?

I mean, the number of exasperating things happening in the world nowadays probably means there’s a perpetual slapping of palms to foreheads going on.

But I digress…

I had one of these moments yesterday while I was doing my usual Sunday morning news scan.

The cause? The mess that the global PR firm, Bell Pottinger, has gotten itself into.

This company is currently wrapped up in a racial scandal regarding a campaign they created for the South African company ‘Oakbay’.

Oakbay is owned by a family (the Guptas) that has been at the centre of a massive political scandal in South Africa after being accused of using their connections with the president to win contracts and influence political appointments.

In short, Bell Pottinger was hired to create a campaign that would stir up racial tensions over the continued existence of the white minority that still wields disproportionate economic power in the country, even two decades after the apartheid was ended.

It’s pretty clear that the campaign was intended as a smoke screen to distract from the Gupta family scandal (as well as a ploy to ensure that their friend, President Zuma, remained in power).

And that’s where the palm flies to face… Why on earth would Bell Pottinger get wrapped up in something like that?

Further reading tells me they were lured in by the promise of big money. A greedy mistake which, unfortunately, happens all too often.

If there’s one thing almost two decades in the marketing industry has taught us, it’s that reputation is worth far more than any sum of money a client might bring in.

Think about it, this scandal might very well ruin Bell Pottinger.

At current they have been stripped of their Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) membership for a minimum of 5 years, their major clients are dropping like flies, and one of their major shareholders has handed back its shares for nothing, simply because it doesn’t want to be associated with them.

It’s not looking good.

While it might be too late for the PR company, for those of us who are just objective observers it should serve as a sobering reminder of what could happen if you don’t pick your clients wisely.

One of the first questions we ask when screening clients at JTN is ‘Is their business right for us?’. We have a set of pre-qualification criteria that we use to ensure that we only work with people who are a right-fit for our agency.

We do this mainly to ensure that we don’t waste time on clients that we won’t be able to do our very best work for, or who simply aren’t suitable. But we also do it to avoid doing a “Bell Pottinger”.

A point that we always drive home with our clients is–it’s okay to be picky. By weeding out unsuitable prospects you’ll ensure that your time (and that of the business) is spent effectively and profitably.

At the end of the day, this is what’s going to build your reputation as a business that does great work, and makes clients happy. And it’s this reputation that will deliver you a consistent stream of income.

If you’d like to chat to me or a member of the team about pre-qualification criteria and how to guarantee you only work with best-fit clients, get in touch.

As demonstrated by Bell Pottinger, risking your reputation for the sake of acquiring a big client (and collecting a fat pay check) just isn’t worth it. Putting the processes in place to ensure you always screen a client before deciding whether or not to work with them is a smart move.

A smart move Bell Pottinger clearly didn’t make, and is now paying the price for.

A price the Oakbay account earnings definitely won’t cover.