Sard, Brunswick handle announcement of Kmart-Sears merger

HOFFMAN ESTATES, IL: Last week's announcement that Kmart would merge with Sears, Roebuck, & Co. came via two high-powered M&A communications firms, both of which had existing relationships with the retailers.

HOFFMAN ESTATES, IL: Last week's announcement that Kmart would merge with Sears, Roebuck, & Co. came via two high-powered M&A communications firms, both of which had existing relationships with the retailers.

Sears worked with Citigate Sard Verbinnen's New York and Chicago offices, which it had used for various projects over the past three years.

Kmart worked with Brunswick Group, which put five people on the deal.

Michael Buckley, a partner at Brunswick, said he couldn't disclose how long his firm had been working on the announcement, but offered, "Both Kmart and [chairman Edward] Lampert are longstanding clients."

The two firms managed to prevent leaks on the announcement until Wednesday morning, when it was publicly unveiled.

The Chicago Tribune ran a story that morning claiming the announcement might be made that day. A source familiar with the communications arrangements said the story had no impact on the timing of the announcement.

"We're extremely gratified it didn't leak," said Buckley.

Sears spokeswoman Lee Antonio said, "It's still too early to tell" who would head PR for the new company, which is to be called Sears Holding.

Robert O'Leary was hired as Sears' SVP of PR, communications, and government affairs in June 2003. He ran the joint press conference held by both companies to announce the merger.

Kmart in September 2003 gave responsibility for PR to Janet Kelly, who had originally been hired as an SVP overseeing human resources and internal auditing.

Several analysts at the press conference asked how the two brands would be distinguished. Company officials indicated that Sears would be positioned as the more upscale of the two.

Alan Lacy, who will become vice chairman of Sears Holding, said of the planned Sears brand image, "We're the trade-up from Wal-Mart and Target."

The new company expects to convert several hundred Kmarts to Sears stores.

Neither Kmart nor Sears have agencies of record.

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