LONDON — The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) has launched a formal governance review and a parallel investigation into complaints from members.

The governance review, which will be conducted by a ‘specialist independent third party’ in the coming weeks, was put in place in September by new chair Sarah Scholefield, global CEO of Grayling.

According to a statement announcing the review, it will “assess the efficacy of the PRCA’s professional structures” with a focus on: board and committees; values and ethics; policies and regulatory framework; monitoring and internal control; risk and performance management; and transparency and accountability. It will be supported by the PRCA’s Race and Ethnicity Equity Board (REEB) and will involve staff, members, board members and the wider industry.

Separately, PRovoke Media understands that an investigation will also be held into the content of a number of complaints from PRCA members and commercial partners, relating to the conduct of director general Francis Ingham, who has led the organisation since 2007 and has also been the chief executive of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) since 2013.

A source close to the processes said the review and investigation were “about protecting the reputation of the organisation and the wellbeing of everyone in it, including the exceptional team and the leadership.”

In the past month, two agency members – The PR Network and Don’t Cry Wolf – have resigned from the association. The PR Network founders Nicky Regazzoni and George Blizzard, along with Don’t Cry Wolf founder John Brown, have also resigned as PRCA Fellows.

In addition, PRovoke Media understands that Ketchum’s CEO, global markets Jo-ann Robertson has this week resigned her board post and temporarily withdrawn Ketchum’s membership. When approached for comment she said: “I can confirm that I have resigned as a member of the PRCA Board and have suspended Ketchum's membership until the governance review is complete.”

Scholefield responded to a swelling number of comments about the PRCA and its leadership on social media over the past few days by saying: “The PRCA and PRCA board acknowledges concerns that have been shared publicly in recent days and takes these very seriously. The board is following current PRCA process and will be looking into these further.”

In a blog post this week, Brown outlined the reasons for Don’t Cry Wolf’s withdrawal from the association, including resigning from his role as the chair of the Misinformation in the Climate Crisis group. He wrote: “I am fairly confident that the PRCA does not have a governance system that allows for a complaint of this nature to be raised officially and for the efficacy of the director general to be questioned.”

Brown also said of Ingham: “I think he made some strong calls in the past, supported Don’t Cry Wolf, and welcomed the changes I wanted to try and make around climate action, working on everything from revamping the Consultancy Management Standard (CMS) accreditation to the set-up of the Misinformation in the Climate Crisis group. But he has become the story, causing damage to members, staff and the industry.”

The PRCA currently has a board of 36 members, including the chair and director general. This compares to the average board size of FTSE 150 companies of 9.9 in 2021. The organisation currently has no HR committee, and no official complaints process for staff or members, apart from the ability to make a complaint about a member believed to be in breach of the PRCA’s Codes of Conduct and Professional Charter.

Ingham told PRovoke Media: “I’m living with Type 2 diabetes. It’s tough as I’m sure everyone will recognise. I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved in turning the PRCA into the world’s biggest PR association. I welcome the governance review and I’m happy to be an integral part of it as we reflect how we have changed fundamentally from national to international organisation. These Covid times have been incredibly stressful for everyone. We saw them through and we’re now bigger than we were before the pandemic, and I think that’s a testament to the strength of the industry and the organisation.”

In a statement Scholefield said: “The PRCA is unrecognisable from the relatively small trade association that existed little over a decade ago, with memberships opened up to in-house and individual practitioners alongside the launch of a raft of pioneering services and support available to members through its incredibly hard working team.

“Moreover, it is also no longer a purely national body but a convener and partner on the international stage with over 35,000 members and operating in 82 countries. As an organisation supported by volunteer members at board and other levels, I am incredibly proud of what the team has achieved.

“Clearly, we need to ensure that all governance mechanisms which were first put in place are fit for the future, and also that they address learnings from the past. The review that the board has approved is designed to strengthen the PRCA’s corporate governance and to underpin the association’s steadfast commitment to professional standards.”