Kmart corrals cadre of PR counselors for comeback

TROY, MI: Beleaguered bargain retailer Kmart has lifted the lid on its PR strategy. The company's conspicuous silence since the first few weeks of the bankruptcy crisis has led to speculation over its PR plans.

TROY, MI: Beleaguered bargain retailer Kmart has lifted the lid on its PR strategy. The company's conspicuous silence since the first few weeks of the bankruptcy crisis has led to speculation over its PR plans.

SVP of communications Lori McTavish confirmed PRWeek's story of two weeks ago that she was looking for external PR help, and added that she was sounding out agencies about a new grassroots PR campaign.

Kmart expects to work with a variety of firms as it fights to emerge from bankruptcy. But it won't hire a PR agency of record, McTavish said.

Instead, she wants to assemble a team of agencies with expertise in various areas - a task already begun.

McTavish confirmed that Kmart has been working with Kekst & Co. for bankruptcy PR, with Porter Novelli on PR related to Kmart's new ad campaign, and with Golin/Harris on consumer PR issues. New York-based Lippe Taylor has been working on apparel PR.

"I am really a firm believer that there's strength in teams,

McTavish said.

McTavish's promotion last week from VP to SVP of communications signifies how vital PR is to Kmart's new management team. McTavish said her new title is "really not about me, it's more about our leadership team and their philosophy of communications."

In addition to the promotion, McTavish is now solely responsible for overseeing internal communications. That function had previously been shared by communications and HR.

Kmart last week announced that CEO Chuck Conaway was leaving, with current chairman James Adamson assuming the CEO title. A number of other senior-level promotions were announced too, moves seen as Adamson putting together his senior management team.

While Conaway was running the company, McTavish had been considering a grassroots PR campaign. "I've asked a number of firms to submit proposals on such an initiative,

she said. Whether that plan goes forward will depend on Adamson. "He is a huge advocate of communications, and a gifted communicator,

she testified.

Adamson's team must still decide how Kmart will position itself in the competitive discount retail landscape. "While there are pieces we know will be part of that puzzle, it's too early to know how those pieces will fit together,

McTavish said.

Whatever direction the company takes, McTavish said it would be placing increased emphasis on PR. In recent years, Kmart has gained a reputation in Detroit for being good at event PR, but not very proactive with other forms of PR.

"I do believe this team has different priorities and a different philosophy for communications,

she said. "Solid communications is a combination of proactive and reactive."

Communications goals of late have been to reach employees with news about store closings and layoffs, and to talk with vendors about ongoing Kmart operations, McTavish said.

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