Thomas Cook comms chief restructures PR as firm's Corfu response continues

The new Thomas Cook comms chief Alice Macandrew (pictured) is restructuring the holiday operator's PR function, prompting the departure of the UK head of PR Ian Benjafield and his deputy.

Macandrew, who joined the beleaguered holiday firm as group comms director in November, wants Thomas Cook to possess a best-in-class comms function, which can help it become a more ethically driven business. The firm suffered substantial reputation damage last year over the way it has handled the deaths of two children in Corfu ten years ago.

To support this goal, Macandrew is creating three new senior comms roles reporting to her: a head of corporate comms responsible for both corporate and consumer PR, a group head of public affairs and a group head of internal comms.

In 2011, Macandrew quit News Corporation, where she was comms chief and one of James Murdoch’s closest advisers, after a disagreement in the way the phone-hacking scandal was being handled. A year later she re-emerged in a similar role at sister company BSkyB.

Her decision to more closely integrate all comms disciplines at Thomas Cook – corporate comms, public affairs, consumer PR and internal comms – is designed to achieve a more consistent tone of voice throughout the organisation. Thomas Cook is a complex international business comprising tour operations, an airline, hotels and even entire resorts.

Macandrew is also understood to favour taking outsourced comms back in-house, which will put financial shop Finsbury and travel PR agency Lotus on alert.

Late on Tuesday, Thomas Cook announced that Benjafield, who has been working with Thomas Cook for nearly three years, had decided to leave the business. Yasmina Cherquaoui, deputy head of PR, who joined from Sandals six months ago, has also decided to leave. It was only in October last year that Matthias Brandes, former head of group comms, announced a new structure.

Macandrew told PRWeek that Cherquaoui and Benjafield would leave the business "later this month", paying tribute to the pair, who she said had "made a really significant contribution to Thomas Cook in what has been a very challenging environment". Macandrew also said: "I am personally very sorry to see them go and would like to thank them for all that they have done to rebuild the PR function in the UK."

Thomas Cook is now recruiting for the three new PR leadership roles, as well as a senior PR manager and a PR executive. The latter is to be based permanently in Peterborough, where the bulk of the company’s 22,000 staff are headquartered.

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