Best City communications

When Headland was appointed as McColl’s retained corporate and fi nancial PR advisers in July 2016, the company’s share price was languishing below its flotation price and it was portrayed in the media as a rather old-fashioned newsagent business. With a new management team on board, the agency set about changing the narrative around McColl’s and ensure that its critical role in the convenience retail landscape was better understood. Rather than simply communicate at financial results time, the team had to be positioned as experts in their fields with views on many aspects of the sector.

Headland created a three-pronged strategy focused around content – gathering data to demonstrate the opportunities in neighbourhood convenience retailing; profile – positioning the management team as experts; and engagement – building the analyst following, influencing key trade publications and introducing the management team to national journalists. The agency’s appointment coincided with McColl’s acquisition of 298 convenience stores from the Co-operative Group for £117 million. This, plus a later wholesale supply deal with Morrisons, were positioned as transformational moments in the company’s history.

Communications programmes that encompassed all critical audiences, including sell-side and retail analysts, were implemented. At McColl’s capital markets day, the company presented the findings of a report it had commissioned on the sector’s growth opportunities. The IGD report revealed that one in five millennials do their main shop at convenience stores and that consumers are keen to cut down on the time they spend shopping for groceries, which is an opportunity for the sector as the average convenience store shop takes just 25 minutes against 46 across all grocery channels. The capital markets day was attended by 90 analysts, investors and journalists.

Following a meeting with Tony Gallagher, editor of The Sun, McColl’s was selected as retail partner for its Smiles at Christmas charity campaign, re-emphasising the company’s neighbourhood focus. When Tesco announced its £3.7 billion proposed takeover of cash and carry business Booker in January 2017, and Sainsbury’s admitted it was eyeing up the Nisa convenience chain, the management team of McColl’s embarked on a targeted briefing programme with City editors and national retail journalists emphasising the company’s vital role in a consolidating sector.

In the year following Headland’s appointment, McColl’s share price rose 113 per cent from 126p to 268p while the FTSE All Shares Index rose just 15 per cent and the FTSE 350 Food & Drugs Retailers Index improved 17 per cent. The company also secured buy recommendations from all key investment columns and two new sell-side analysts now cover the stock. Indeed, the number of analysts who turned up to cover results briefings rose from an average of four to 13 at the interim results this year. 

The judges liked this campaign, saying: ‘This was a strong reinvention of a brand previously seen to be floundering with a strong stockmarket response.’