The two agencies stand accused of failing to register public affairs clients with the APPC – one of the main membership obligations and a key requirement of the APPC code of conduct. The agencies were exposed in The Sunday Times and The Observer on the eve of the Labour Party conference.
The APPC management committee met on Monday evening to discuss what action to take against Edelman and Burson-Marsteller.
In a statement, APPC chair Gill Morris suggested the matter was being taken seriously by the body.
She said: ‘The management committee concluded that the media reports merit investigation and are therefore inviting both Burson-Marsteller and Edelman to attend a meeting of the committee to set out the facts as they see them in order that the management comitttee may determine whether formal complaints should be brought and referred to the Professional Practices Panel.’
The mention of the Professional Practice Panel is significant as this is an independent panel comprising senior figures with significant experience of public affairs.
The panel was previously called on in 1998 to investigate those agencies embroiled in the ‘Drapergate’ lobbying scandal.
Edelman Europe vice-president Michael Burrell has already admitted the agency was in the wrong and has said it will now routinely check invoices to ensure that all clients are reported to the APPC in the future (PRWeek, 28 September).
Burson-Marseller has taken a different stance, with chief executive Jonathan Jordan previously insisting the agency was right not to register the client in this case because the work it had undertaken was ‘not lobbying work as such’.
Speaking this week, Burrell, an ex-chair of the APPC himself, said: ‘We welcome the opportunity to state the facts to the management committee.’
Jordan said: ‘We think it makes sense for the APPC to look into this matter.’
‘The APPC also agreed to issue guidance to members of the APPC for completion of their register entries in order to ensure greater consistency in approach and the utmost transparency,’ said Morris.