LONDON — FleishmanHillard Fishburn has asked the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) to carry out an independent assessment of its work for client SMG Europe.

The request follows claims by local councillors in Manchester that venue operator SMG, which manages Manchester Arena, the second-largest indoor arena in Europe, was involved in so-called ‘astroturfing’ – the practice of creating unbranded marketing materials to make corporate-funded activity look like grassroots campaigning.

The claims relate to SMG’s campaign against proposals for a second major venue in the city; the materials in question are a Facebook page for a community group, ‘Friends of Eastlands,’ and a leaflet distributed to Manchester residents.

FleishmanHillard Fishburn, which is one of several agencies that work for SMG in Manchester, issued a statement saying: “In response to questions raised about its work on a recent project in Manchester for its client SMG, FleishmanHillard Fishburn has requested that the PRCA undertakes an independent evaluation and assessment of that work.

"The agency is confident that process will prove that it conducted itself appropriately during the campaign, which its client stands fully behind.”

PRCA director general Francis Ingham told the Holmes Report: “As far as I’m aware, no-one has ever referred themselves before.” He added: “We welcome this decision by FHF to refer themselves to the PRCA Professional Practices Committee. The process is now underway and will proceed in its well-established, thorough, and timely manner.”