Instinctif Partners

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Instinctif Partners, which was known as the College Group until 2014, is a Public Relations (PR) company based in the United Kingdom (UK), with a presence in Europe, the United States, the Middle East, and Africa.12

The company has worked with the tobacco and e-cigarette industries. In 2020, for example, the EU Transparency register showed that Instinctif was paid a figure between €100,000 and €199,000 by Imperial Brands.3 However, Instinctif said that as of September 2020, they no longer worked with tobacco companies in Brussels.4


Staff: Past & Present

Relationship with the Tobacco Industry

Worked with Imperial Brands on ‘Grassroot’ Opposition to European E-cigarette Regulations

From 2018 until September 2020 Instinctif Partners provided Imperial Tobacco with “monitoring and strategic advice on a number of issues but mainly related to vaping”.7 According to Instinctif’s entry on the EU Transparency Register, this contract was worth between €50,000 and €99,000 in 2018.8 Imperial Tobacco paid €10,000 to fund an European Citizens Initiative called “Let’s demand smarter vaping regulations”,9 a petition that calls for the European Commission to repeal EU Tobacco Products Directive Article 20, which is concerned with the regulation of e-cigarettes.10 Instinctif’s Managing Partner Brandon Mitchener also told Politico that the tobacco company was setting up a website to allow citizens to add their signature to the petition. The website,, was launched at the end of April 2019.11

Instinctif Partners put out a press release promoting both “pillars” of the campaign: the Citizens’ Initiative and the website (which provided a tool to help people to contact their political representative) as well as the campaign’s social media accounts.12 This press release did not mention Instinctif’s contract with Imperial Brands or the tobacco company’s funding of the campaign. On 30 April 2019, Brandon Mitchener moderated the Vaping is NOT Tobacco Campaign launch, which was livestreamed on Youtube.13

On 22 May 2019, the messaging on the Facebook page for the Vaping is NOT Tobacco campaign outlined how it resembled “A grassroots campaign” which “is a bottom-up movement aimed at energising citizens to stand up for an issue they believe in.”14Sponsoring and organising otherwise disorganised citizens into visible ‘grassroot’ opposition to tobacco legislation is called Astroturfing and is a well-known tactic used by the tobacco industry, often with the assistance of PR companies.15

Other Tobacco Clients

  • In 2016 Instinctif Partners reported that Philip Morris UK was its client.16
  • In 2014 the Instinctif Asia branch worked with British American Tobacco (BAT) Hong Kong to reportedly help enhance BAT’s work culture.17

Worked with the E-cigarette Industry

In 2014 Instinctif Partners handled the PR of NJOY,18 an independent American e-cigarette company, which was taken to court over e-cigarette patent claims that same year by Fontem Ventures, a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco.

NJOY and Fontem Ventures settled in 2015.19 In September 2016 NJOY filed for bankruptcy.20

Relevant Link

TobaccoTactics Resources

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  1. Instinctif Partners, History: Our Story, Instinctif Partners website, 2017, accessed March 2017
  2. Instinctif Partners, Who we are, website, undated, accessed February 2020
  3. EU Transparency Register, Instinctif Partners Financial data: 01/2020-12/2020, accessed February 2022
  4. Email correspondence between Tobacco Tactics and Instinctif Partners, December 2020
  5. Instinctif Partners, Brandon Mitchener joins as Brussels Managing Partner, 18 December 2018, accessed February 2018
  6. Instinctif Partners, Brandon Mitchener, website profile, undated, accessed February 2022
  7. K. Jennings, Big Tobacco’s push for Big Vape, Politico, 26 February 2019, updated 27 February 2019, accessed February 2019
  8. EU Transparency Register, Instinctif Partners, last modified 25 February 2019, accessed February 2019
  9. The European Citizen’s Initiative, Title: Let’s demand smarter vaping regulation!, last updated 20 December 2018, accessed February 2019
  10. European Commission, European Citizens’ Initiative: Commission registers ‘Let’s demand smarter vaping regulation!’ initiative, 12 February 2019, accessed February 2019
  11. Vaping is Not Tobacco campaign website, accessed May 2019
  12. Vaping is NOT Tobacco Campaign: A Pan-European Push for Smarter Vaping Rules, Business Wire, press release, 30 April 2019, archived 1 May 2019, accessed February 2022
  13. Vaping is NOT Tobacco Press Conference, YouTube video, 30 April 2019, accessed March 2022
  14. Vaping is Not Tobacco (@VapingIsNOTtobacco), Facebook post, 22 May 2019, accessed March 2020
  15. S. Ulucanlar, G.J. Fooks, A.B. Gilmore, The Policy Dystopia Model: An Interpretive Analysis of Tobacco Industry Political Activity, PLoS Med, 2016; 13(9): e1002125
  16. PRCA, Public Affairs Agency and In-House Register June – August 2016, PRCA website, accessed February 2019
  17. Instinctif Asia, Instinctif Partners was Awarded the PR Awards Hong Kong 2014, Instinctif Asia website, 11 December 2014, accessed March 2017
  18. G. Charles, Full steam ahead, PublicAffairs news, 4 April 2014, accessed March 2017
  19. Fontem Ventures, Fontem Ventures B.V. and NJOY Inc Announce Settlement Agreement in Relation to E-Vapour Technology Patents, 16 November 2015, accessed February 2019
  20. V. Sullivan, E-Cig Maker Said Failed Product Launch Led to Bankruptcy, 19 September 2016, accessed February 2019