Incumbent Cliff Freeman out; 20 Agencies Contacted About Pitch

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SAN FRANCISCO ( -- Staples, embarking on a new business-to-business thrust, is staging a review for its advertising account.

In January, Staples denied it was considering a review for its account, which had been with Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York. The marketer is contacting almost 20 agencies about the pitch, but the incumbent will not participate in the review.

Staples spent $71.2 million in measured media in 2001, down from $115 million in 2000, according to Taylor Neslon Sofres' CMR, and Judy Shapiro, vice president of advertising, indicated spending was anticipated to remain level in the coming year.

Ms. Shapiro said

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the retailer is looking to win more business customers under a positioning set by Staples' new CEO, Ronald Sargent. Staples is searching for a "strategically based, highly creative shop," she said, but added she did not know whether the chain would retain its long-running tagline "Staples: We've got that."

Staples has hired Select Resources International, West Hollywood, Calif., to handle the review.

Agencies contacted
Although a final list has not yet been complete, those initially receiving the request for proposal include the New York offices of Bcom3 Group shops Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Kaplan Thaler Group; WPP Group's Berlin Cameron; Interpublic Group of Cos.' Bozell and Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos; DeVito/Verdi; DiMassimo Brand Advertising; Publicis Groupe's Fallon Worldwide; Della Femina/Rothschild/Jeary & Partners; Kirshenbaum, Bond & Partners; and Wieden & Kennedy. Other agencies include MDC Communications Corp.'s Crispin Porter Bogusky, Miami; Interpublic's Martin Agency, Richmond, Va., and Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis; Omnicom Group's Martin/Williams, Minneapolis; Modernista, Boston; and McCarthy Mambro Bertino, Boston.

The request for proposal indicates the retailer has a broad definition of competitors, including agencies handling accounts for consumer electronics stores or other office services chains, executives familiar with the inquiry said.

Freeman, which had the account for eight years, was known for its humorous spots, including one about a joyous parent glad to be shopping for back-to-school supplies after, presumably, a long summer with his children around. The song for that ad: "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."

Ms. Shapiro said she has not yet determined whether there would be a major shift in the types of media used for its advertising, though she anticipates spending levels to be the same as last year.

Will it stay in-house?
But one executive, however, indicated that despite the review, Staples will continue working with its in-house agency. "It [the account] is a fee-based assignment, and media spending is not a good barometer" of future spending, the executive said.

Under the Select Resources process, the large initial pool of agencies will be narrowed down to about a dozen semifinalists which will be visited by the client before a final list is developed. Those finalists will make a formal pitch to Staples in June, with a decision made by July.

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