Nearly everything Chipotle does at the moment is newsworthy. Earlier this week several publications reported that the Denver-based burrito maker’s relationship with Edelman ended at the close of 2015.
“We’ve parted ways with Edelman,” Chipotle communications director Chris Arnold confirmed to us in an email. “We agreed in early October to part ways at the end of the year because they were taking on a piece of business that was a conflict [for us]. We issued an RFP to some select firms in mid-November, have proposals in hand from some excellent firms, and expect to have a decision made on a replacement for Edelman in the coming weeks.”
We asked Chipotle whether the Edelman assignment included crisis and issues PR. There was no response. In addition there was no mention of the unnamed business Edelman took on that caused the conflict.
In terms of timing, Chipotle’s E. coli outbreak in the Pacific Northwest became public late in October, when the franchise voluntarily closed 43 outlets during Halloween weekend. The cause of the outbreak has yet to be determined.
Unfortunately for Chipotle, whose PR and communications during the E. coli crisis generally has been good, the string of disturbing news continues and its share price plummets. Late last year while the company unveiled what it calls an “industry-leading” food sanitation program, that news was badly overshadowed by an outbreak of norovirus linked to a Boston-area Chipotle. That incident sickened more than 100 Boston College students, including many on its men’s basketball squad.
Then, not long before Christmas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was investigating another possible E. coli outbreak at Chipotle restaurants separate from the Halloween outbreak in the Pacific Northwest. Earlier this week Chipotle disclosed it’s being subpoenaed as part of a federal criminal investigation of a norovirus in a California outlet last summer. In addition, the company said sales fell 30% in December.
Follow Seth Arenstein: @skarenstein