Little Chef shelves PR pitch again as it awaits new CEO

Roadside restaurant chain Little Chef has put plans to hire consumer PR agency support on hold, pending the arrival of a new chief executive.

Starfish Communications and Storm Communications are two of at least five agencies that have already pitched for a consumer PR contract. However, plans to hire an agency have now been postponed as Little Chef awaits Tim Scoble’s arrival as CEO on 9 June, according to senior marketing manager Ben Forbes.

Forbes and marketing director Gill Brown had overseen pitches in the past few weeks, but the latter left last week amid uncertainty for Little Chef’s marketing team.

Earlier pitches took place in June 2002, with Forbes confirming that Storm was at the time Little Chef’s ‘preferred shortlisted agency’. However, it is understood a contract was never signed due to then-forthcoming sell-off plans.

This February, Little Chef, along with sister hotel chain Travelodge, was sold by catering giant Compass to private equity house Permira for a reported £712m.

Little Chef now has no incumbent consumer PR agency, following a reduction in Mason Williams’ responsibilities to merely crisis management more than a year ago.

Although Forbes admitted that ‘the waters had been clouded a little by changes in the business’, he insisted that Little Chef still planned to hire a consumer PR agency, primarily to promote the chain’s revamped menu later this summer.

It is understood that PR agency changes are also on the cards at Travelodge, for which Storm is the current retained consumer PR agency, having begun work last November.

Travelodge marketing director Peter Halsey, who has responsibility for PR contracts, said: ‘We are currently working with Storm Communications for proactive PR and Mason Williams PR for crisis PR. We are not pitching and we have not entered agreements with anyone else.’

However, industry sources suggest the consumer PR contract for Travelodge will shortly transfer to Cohn & Wolfe, speculation on which Halsey refused to comment, saying only: ‘I speak regularly with many PR companies.’

Travelodge has just completed a recruitment process for its first dedicated in-house PR post. Shakila Ahmed will join in June as PR and comms manager from her role as comms manager for MX Financial Solutions, a Bristol & West subsidiary.

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