Where are the Bell Pottinger people going?

Public relations agency bosses are warning that recruitment could freeze next year because of a hiring frenzy caused by 220 Bell Pottinger staffers flooding the market.

Since the PR group entered administration, at least a dozen employees have found new jobs, with some bosses admitting they are bringing forward recruitment to save on headhunters' fees next year.

'We were not planning to do any more recruitment this year,' says John Evans, chief executive of Hawthorn, which hired Bell Pottinger partner Lorna Cobbett. 'However, this opportunity was too good to miss and also means we can save tens of thousands of pounds on search consultancy fees next year.'

Michael Sandler, chairman of Hudson Sandler, has also been prompted into action, recruiting Bell Pottinger partner Dan de Belder. 'It's extremely rare for an agency of this size to just disappear,' he says. 'The last really big one was Streets Financial more than 30 years ago. It's a real opportunity for us to hire good people. I think the PR agency recruitment market is just going to freeze in about six months' time because everybody is doing their hiring now.'

Maitland has recruited Clinton Manning, Sam Cartwright and Joanna Davidson to work with consumer industries and support services clients. Bell Pottinger financial practice head John Sunnucks is said to be trying to start a PR agency, although he recently suffered a setback with the collapse of his major client Monarch Airlines, while Jonathan Hodgkinson, an associate partner of that practice has become managing director of Prosek Partners.

Partner Elly Williamson has joined Powerscourt, while Georgia Way has been hired by Boscobel & Partners, the outfit founded by former Maitland executive George Trefgarne.

Buchanan has recruited David Rydell as a partner and also took on Gus Chipungu as an account executive eight weeks before Bell Pottinger's collapse. Ben Woodford has moved to Camarco, as a partner, where he is reunited with chief executive Geoffrey Pelham Lane, who was head of investor relations at NatWest when Woodford ran the in-house media relations function. 

Lansons has appointed Claire Southerd, formerly managing director of Bell Pottinger's Engage multi-channel offer, as director responsible for digital content and social media. It is understood that several more junior executives have joined Grayling, an agency which shared the same building as Bell Pottinger on London's High Holborn. 'They simply get out on a different floor now,' said one observer. MHP and Instinctif are also believed to have recruited former Bell Pottinger employees. 

David Bass, one of three associates suspended over their handling of the Oakbay account in South Africa, is believed to be moving to New York to join Peregrine Communications. 

Pagefield has recruited Bell Pottinger's former crisis communications team. The 18 man team will join a new  venture Pagefield Global Counsel, created by Mark Gallagher, founder of  Pagefield, and ex-barrister Stuart Leach, former chief executive of Bell Pottinger Global Advisory, who resigned in July.  Other agency bosses are reluctant to employ whole teams. 'We don't want it to be a them and us situation,' said one.  However, Pagefield Global Counsel is a standalone unit.

Maitland chief executive Neil Bennett does not expect the glut of Bell Pottinger personnel on the market to cause problems for recruiters. 'The last big agency that I can remember disappearing was M Communications in 2013,' he says. 'It had a lot of staff but they were absorbed by the market pretty rapidly. The Bell Pottinger executives who were directly involved in the Gupta affair will not be in so much demand but overall I think that most of the people will find other jobs pretty easily. I am always looking for good, experienced people and they don't come around very often.' 

Recruitment consultants echo Bennett's comments.

‘Bell Pottinger’s competition has been directly snapping up some of the available talent,' says Gavin Ellwood, founder of search firm Ellwood & Atfield. ‘The flood of candidates into the agency market must be having a short-term impact for those recruitment firms working solely with agencies. The in-house market where Ellwood Atfield operates is very buoyant right now. 'The sudden availability of agency candidates isn’t having any noticeable effect for us.’

Oskar Yasar, managing partner of Broome Yasar Partnership, also believes that the current movement of staff will not affect the core PR recruitment market. ‘Bell Pottinger was quite broad in its offering,' he comments, 'so I am confident that it really should not affect  our recruitment area at all as we’re still working on a number of senior retained agency mandates. In addition, ex-Bell Pottinger staffers at a senior level will be bringing clients and contacts, so all that is happening is a consolidation of the agency arena with one fewer agency in the market.

‘It is not affecting the growth in client demand for agency work. It’s as simple as that and everyone should calm down.’