Chipotle, Edelman split amid E. coli crisis

Edelman has been Chipotle's AOR for national PR since 2008

DENVER: Chipotle Mexican Grill and Edelman have parted ways, as the food chain suffers reputational and financial damage amid its E. coli crisis, which has been ongoing since October.

Michael Bush, Edelman’s SVP of global marketing and communications, confirmed via email that the firm no longer works with Chipotle.

"We agreed in early October to part ways with Edelman at the end of the year because of a sizable piece of business they were taking on that presents a conflict," Chipotle comms director Chris Arnold said via email. "We are nearing the end of a search to replace them and should have that wrapped up in the coming weeks."

In 2014, Edelman, along with Creative Artists Agency Los Angeles, won the Grand Prix and a Gold Lion at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for its work on Chipotle’s The Scarecrow campaign. The campaign was linked to Chipotle’s Food with Integrity initiative, which highlighted the Mexican restaurant chain’s commitment to sustainably raised food.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently began investigating another E. coli outbreak in Kansas, Oklahoma, and North Dakota, which is not connected to the October outbreak that led to the temporary closure of 43 Chipotle restaurants in the Pacific Northwest, the CDC said.

Apart from E. coli, norovirus also affected dozens of Chipotle customers in Boston – most visibly the Boston College men’s basketball team – in December.

On the comms front, Chipotle has been ratcheting up its media relations efforts to spread the word about steps it is taking to mitigate the risks of food-borne illness. Last month, Chipotle also posted a letter from co-CEO and founder Steve Ells about the food-safety initiative to its website and linked to it on the chain’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Ells also apologized in an NBC interview to all customers who fell ill after eating in its restaurants and promised to enforce strict food-safety practices.

Chipotle is also updating a FAQ page, set up in November, with news pertaining to the crisis. The portal was last updated on December 21.

The chain’s image has been under attack since September, when Chipotle began fighting back against a lawsuit contending that the chain has been lying to customers about its food being GMO-free. Around the same time, the Center for Consumer Freedom created a "Chubby Chipotle" ad campaign calling the company's executives "fast food hypocrites" for claiming that its menu is GMO-free.

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