WHSmith on the hunt for consumer agency

WHSmith is on the hunt for a PR agency to handle a newly created consumer brief.

WHSmith corporate media relations manager Louise Evans said the company had created the brief to focus on branding. This comes amid an overhaul of the design of its 553 stores.

She said that four firms are in the running to handle the account, which will be its second consumer PR brief. It is hoped that an agency will be in place by next January.

GCI, which is one of those pitching, already handles the store’s other consumer PR account, comprising day-to day media relations support. Evans stressed that this account is not being reviewed.

Evans said the newly created brief would involve dealing with ‘shifting brand perception’ and specifically how WHSmith’s business was presented to customers.

She said this would be a departure from the more conventional consumer PR that the firm had used in the past, adding that further details would be announced once an agency is appointed.

‘We are working on a programme that focuses on how we are perceived. Our marketing has been based on product advertising and consumer PR. Our thinking now is more about brand communication,’ she said.

Evans insisted that the creation of the new external PR role was not a criticism of GCI’s performance on the day-to-day brief.

Last month WHSmith shares fell 25.7p after the company said the summer heatwave had reduced sales and profits.

The firm has also had more long-standing profit problems at its US hotels and airports businesses, which have been dragged down by a sluggish US economy.

In July WHSmith announced the appointment of Argos MD Kate Swann to succeed Richard Handover as CEO in the new year.

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