JCPenney Brings on New PR Agency

Retailer Continues Wave of Marketing Changes

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JCPenney Co.'s new marketing leadership has made another revision to its agency roster: It has hired PMK-BNC, an entertainment and consumer PR agency, as its agency of record, Ad Age has learned.

The move ends a six-year relationship with M Booth & Associates, which was acquired by holding company Next Fifteen in 2009. "We were delighted to be JCPenney's AOR for the past six years and wish them well as they seek a new direction for the brand," said the incumbent's CEO, Margi Booth.

PMK-BNC, owned by Interpublic Group of Cos., referred requests for comment to the client, and JCPenney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to people familiar with the matter, the midpriced retailer invited PR firms with fashion and lifestyle experience to participate in the review. The new agency relationship likely represents an attempt to strengthen its image, via lifestyle and entertainment, with midmarket consumers.

In response to a net loss in the third quarter, JCPenney Executive Chairman Mike Ullman told the Financial Times: "While our more affluent customers continued to respond well to JCPenney's attractions, the moderate consumer continues to have limited discretionary spending capability."

The strategy mirrors that of Sears, which last year brought on lifestyle PR firm Alison Brod as it sought to boost its profile in the fashion realm.

Hiring PMK-BNC is just one more change for a company with a fresh senior leadership team. Former Apple exec Ron Johnson assumed the role of CEO in November and Michael Francis, former Target CMO, came on board as president in October. Mike Boylson, the company's longtime CMO, with a $1.2 billion budget, retired earlier this year.

The CMO role has yet to be filled, but Mr. Francis is overseeing marketing in the interim. When he came on board, the company quickly hired Peterson Milla Hooks, with which he'd worked when he was at Target , as a second creative agency partner to join JCPenney's longtime creative agency, Saatchi & Saatchi.

The rapid revamp of the agency roster has some wondering about the fate of lead shop Saatchi.

It's the second new client in a month for PMK-BNC. The firm also retained its Audi account after a review. It's also another consumer account to add to its portfolio, which consists largely of celebrities and entertainment accounts. And the wins are indicative of brands' appetite for entertainment partnership opportunities. Besides Audi and JCPenney, PMK-BNC's brand portfolio includes Activision and German beauty company Beiersdorf.

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