Charting the recent advancements in weaponized communication by investigating the rise and fall of the world’s most notorious public relations and reputation management firm: the British multinational Bell Pottinger.
Hot Docs at Home is a Selection of Films from the Postponed 2020 Edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival That Will Air Thursdays in April and May on CBC, Documentary Channel, and CBC Gem
The rise and fall of one of the world’s biggest public relations agencies are told in Influence. Bell Pottinger was one of the world’s most prominent public relations agencies headed up by Lord Tim Bell. Bell got his start as part of the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi and rose to prominence for producing campaigns for Margaret Thatcher. However, Tim Bell would infamously become known for contributing to two propaganda campaigns in South Africa, the latter of which lead to his downfall.
Influence is a documentary from filmmakers Diana Neille and Richard Poplak, which tells the story of “the rise and fall of the world’s most dangerous PR company.” This includes one of the final interviews conducted with Lord Tim Bell before he passed away in 2019. The film covers Bell’s career in public relations over the course of five decades. Tim Bell’s downfall comes when he becomes involved in a propaganda campaign against White Monopoly Capital in South African, which has been accused of fermenting racial tensions within the country.
At one point within Influence, Lord Tim Bell describes the work of Bell Pottinger being about glossing everything up for his clients. Indeed, the film breaks down the huge influence Tim Bell had, whether it be helping to elect Margaret Thatcher or keeping the National Party strong when Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa. Tim Bell sums it up best at one point when he says “the rich men fund election campaigns.”