Arun Sudhaman 05 Jan 2016 // 4:49PM GMT
DENVER—Chipotle Mexican Grill has parted ways with Edelman and is currently searching for new PR agency support, the Holmes Report can reveal.
The "agreement" to part ways, said Chipotle communications director Chris Arnold, comes after Edelman took on a "sizeable piece of business...that presented a conflict." The seven-year relationship, which came to a close at the end of 2015, yielded the Cannes Lions PR Grand Prix in 2014, for the 'Scarecrow' campaign in conjunction with CAA.
Arnold confirmed that Chipotle is currently reviewing proposals "from some really excellent agencies", with a new firm expected to be in place within the next few weeks. An Edelman representative confirmed that the relationship with Chipotle had ended, but declined to comment on any new clients that might have posed a conflict.
The assignment is understood to cover consumer and corporate PR, including media relations, public affairs and executive positioning. Social media is not included, after Chipotle recently hired Carrot Creative as its first social media agency of record.
While Edelman has not been involved in Chipotle's ongoing food safety crisis, it is believed that the brief does call for issues and crisis counsel, to supplement the work of a local Denver-based firm that handles crisis management. So far, an E.coli outbreak across several restaurants has affected nearly 500 customers, causing sales to decline and outlets to close.
Edelman's work with Chipotle, which includes such campaigns as 'Farmed and Dangerous', 'Cultivating Thought' and 'Back to the Start', in addition to Scarecrow, has helped drive the fast food chain's successful 'food with integrity' positioning in recent years. The food safety issues have, however, helped to compromise that positioning — the Scarecrow film, for example, played up the evils of industrial agriculture, in contrast to Chipotle's fresh ingredients and naturally raised meat — and triggered further scrutiny of Chipotle's supply chain.
In response, the company has run full-page apology letters in numerous newspapers, and hired Mansour Samadpour, head of IEH Laboratories & Consulting Group in Seattle, to oversee a more rigorous food-safety scheme.
In addition to the E.coli outbreak, Chipotle's issues management are also likely to involve the company's visible stance on food issues, such as its decision to go GMO-free.
Chipotle has grown rapidly in recent years, but is expecting its first ever quarterly decline for the last three months of 2015. The company is now focused on attracting customers back to its outlets, but has admitted that it cannot market its way out of its current issues.