PRCA to investigate Fuel PR over 'Sweaty-gate' incident

The PRCA is to investigate a complaint against Fuel PR after an employee of the agency was used as a 'real life' case study for the media to promote one of its clients.

Coverage: The Press Association article ran in several national newspapers
Coverage: The Press Association article ran in several national newspapers

The complaint has been made by Adrian Wheeler, former PRCA chairman. Suspension or termination of Fuel PR’s membership of the PRCA are among the possible sanctions if the agency is ruled to have breached the PRCA’s Code of Conduct and Professional Charter.

The case relates to a story that PRWeek ran on Monday, which revealed that the subject of a ‘real life’ feature used by the Press Association and run in several newspapers actually worked for Fuel PR.

The story has now been removed by several of the outlets that used it, and the PA said it had refunded its customers.

The agency represented a product – antiperspirant brand Odaban – that the employee spoke positively about in the article. The employee in question went by a different name in the article, although Fuel PR said all the other information in the article was correct.

PRCA director general Francis Ingham told PRWeek this morning: "We have now received a complaint from Adrian Wheeler, who is former chairman of the PRCA and board director of the CIPR.

"We will work over the next couple of days to decide which parts of the PRCA Professional Charter and Code of Conduct Adrian Wheeler believes Fuel may have broken. We will then communicate as much detail as we have to Fuel and invite its comments.

"If there’s a case to answer, then we will invite written submissions from both parties. We will share those submissions between the two parties."

The next step would be for the PRCA’s Professional Practices Committee (PPC) to consider the evidence and invite verbal submissions. The committee will then make recommendations for the PRCA board to consider.

Options open to the PPC include dismissing the case; giving a note of advice to Fuel PR about how it could improve its processes; suspending membership; or terminating membership.

Ingham said: "The PPC makes a recommendation to the board but the board has never overturned a decision of the PPC."

He added: "We will take every step to expedite this process. I will be clarifying with Mr Wheeler exactly the terms of his complaint today and forward those to Fuel PR as soon as I’ve got them, asking for a response. If we have to have a hearing, I would hope it would be within the next month so we can come to conclusions.

"I’m very clear that it’s important, for the member being complained against and the complainant, and for confidence in the wider industry, that we resolve this as quickly as possible."

Among the many items in the PRCA’s Code of Conduct and Professional Charter, it says members "have a positive duty at all times to respect the truth and shall not disseminate false or misleading information knowingly or recklessly, and to use proper care to avoid doing so inadvertently".

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