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Let's see the faster side of Sears. The retail chain pulled off a dramatic turnaround in the mid-'90s under the direction of CEO Arthur Martinez and his "Come see the softer side" call to action. Now, though, Sears, Roebuck & Co. is floundering. Sales, particularly of apparel, are soft. Profits are down. The stock price is languishing. Management admits it's not satisfied with performance, a necessary first step to recovery.

But Sears seems reluctant to take action, particularly in the marketing arena. And if the information revolution proves anything it's that marketers need to react swiftly and decisively to change to avoid being stomped by the competition.

A great ad campaign gone stale is only one part of Sears' problem. Yet Sears seems unwilling to find a fast solution. Way back in December, Sears promoted merchandising executive Mark Cohen to succeed John Costello as marketing chief. In February, Mr. Cohen derided the "softer side" campaign at a meeting with analysts and asked the chain's two national agencies to develop alternatives. In March, the agencies, Y&R Advertising and Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, presented their ideas. Two months after that, still unable to pick one agency or even one marketing direction, Sears turned to consultant Jack Trout to help it make a decision.

Sears now says it hopes to have a choice within 30 days. That way it can get a new campaign in time for the back-to-school season. Maybe by then it will have even gotten around to freshening its merchandising mix and taking other steps toward a turnaround. Of course, over those many long months Sears' rivals won't have been standing still. That could give the softer side of Sears an

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