Coincidence? The folks at Young & Rubicam/Chicago certainly say so, but coincidentally or not, the agency is about to part ways with Jim Reath, the top account executive on its big Sears account, just as Richard Gerstein, the top marketing executive at parent Sears Holdings, has exited the company to take a job with HP. Kevin Reilly, an internal candidate has been chosen to replace the departing Sears account person at Y & R, and agency management expected to have the deal finalized with Reilly by late today.
Gerstein, who had the top marketing job for the Sears brand before being promoted to the top marketing post at parent Sears Holdings, was known to be a big fan of the Y & R shop. But now, like a number of other Sears marketing execs in recent years, Gerstein is suddenly gone from the corporation.
That has left Scott Freidheim, currently executive vice-president operating and support businesses for Sears Holdings, as the parent corporation's interim marketing chief. No doubt the shift on the client side has left some within the Y & R camp more than a little worried about what's next for the Sears account. In recent years, it has almost become an axiom in the advertising industry that whenever there is a major shift in marketing execs at the client, major shifts in ad agencies almost invariably follow. Almost, but not always.
Whatever happens from this point on, nobody at the agency is willing to admit any connection between the Sears account management change and Gerstein's exit. In a worst-case scenario, a loss of the Sears account would leave Y&R with a huge, huge hole to fill in its client roster.
Nobody would say Y & R has had an easy time of it since they won the Sears account several years ago following an agency shootout with Ogilvy/Chicago after hedge fund honcho Eddie Lampert took control of Sears. Much of the Y & R work for Sears recently has focused on tools, appliances and electronics, while the retailing behemoth's clothing lines have been given relatively short shrift. But clothing lines still occupy a lot of space at Sears stores, and the expectation is that Lampert will have to start marketing these goods more aggressively or else jettison them from stores.