Player Profile: Selby aiming to tout the destination side of Sears

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David Selby, known as "Sticks" during his days as a drummer, learned one early marketing lesson while booking tours for the Midnight Shift, his rock/jazz/fusion/blues band: You get gigs by offering to play the old favorites.

As the new senior VP-marketing for Sears, Roebuck & Co., Mr. Selby plans to stick with the retailer's well-established favorites, the Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard brands. At the same time, he'll be trying to highlight a few new numbers. For about a year and a half, Sears has been belting out sales promotions. Now, Mr. Selby will be switching to what he calls a "better balance" with branding advertising positioning Sears as a destination store.

"We are acting on an opportunity we see to improve relevance and performance of brand Sears," said Mr. Selby. "I believe in the power of advertising and marketing to connect with the customer," he said. "I believe in emotional branding."

Such advertising would be a deviation from Sears' recent message-numerous ads touting promotional sales with the tagline, "The good life at a great price. Guaranteed." That effort followed the "softer side" campaign, which ran for much of the 1990s but then became shopworn, particularly when the retailer had trouble delivering on fashionable goods.

NO IMMEDIATE CHANGES

Sears posted a 2% decline in same-store sales in February. However, Mr. Selby, 44, said Sears has no immediate plans to change its media spending, marketing mix or advertising agencies. "We will very thoughtfully work this through" with agencies WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather and Y&R Advertising, both Chicago and New York, he said.

Sears last year spent $635 million on U.S. advertising, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Sears executives, meanwhile, have told Wall Street they are emphasizing what the company is calling direct-to-customer advertising, reorganizing in-house staff to leverage customer relationships via the Sears catalog and using e-mail to offer broader solutions and anticipate customer needs.

"We are very serious about a direct-to-customer opportunity," said Mr. Selby.

Born in Wynnewood, Pa., Mr. Selby's father was an industrial flooring manufacturer who had a flair for naming his company's products. After Mr. Selby's musical tour ended, he stumbled across a crumpled piece of paper with information about Leo Burnett in a college career counseling office.

"The business of ideas is appealing to me," said Mr. Selby who began in 1978 as a client services trainee and worked his way through media planning and buying. He eventually became an account executive on some legendary Burnett brands, including Green Giant, McDonald's and Velveeta cheese-fondly remembered for its "Colby, Swiss and cheddar, blend it all togetha" tagline-during his 18 years there.

Now, Mr. Selby is one of less than a dozen marketing chiefs at major retailers testing skills in one of the most difficult retail environments in recent memory, particularly for traditional department stores. As retail analyst Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Trend Report, put it, "Is the department store in the process of losing its reason for existence?"

Mr. Selby, noting Sears is "a general marketer in an increasingly vertical world," said he's not Pollyanna about what's ahead of him. "This," he said, "is a business for the hardy."

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