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Big Lots Eyes 4 Shops

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BOSTON Closeout retailer Big Lots said it has chosen four finalists to compete for the creative portion of its estimated $50 million ad account, handled by SBC Advertising for nearly 20 years.

In the hunt are New York shops Amalgamated and Merkley + Partners, as well as Bernstein-Rein in Kansas City and The Richards Group in Dallas. All four are independents except for Merkley, which is a unit of Omnicom Group.

Consultancy Pile and Co. here is guiding the review, which is slated to finish by mid-July.

SBC in Westerville, Ohio, is not participating in the process, though it had been invited to do so.

Recent marketing materials, including the Columbus, Ohio-based client's Web site, have used the positioning line, "Brand names. Closeout prices."

"We have had a successful and productive relationship with SBC over the years," said Rob Claxton, client svp, marketing, in a statement, when the review began last month. "As Big Lots continues to grow, it is important for us to ensure we have the best agency possible to help us meet our creative objectives."

In March, Interpublic Group's Initiative added digital and local buying duties on Big Lots stores following a review. Those new duties accounted for more than 50 percent of the chain's national media spending. The agency already handled the national buying portion of the business.

Initiative added those chores from SBC, which defended along with three or four other undisclosed agencies. The account is run out of Initiative's Atlanta office.

Big Lots operates about 1,350 stores nationwide, offering a range of bargain-priced merchandise, including furniture, housewares, toys, food and seasonal gift items.

The retail sector has been especially active of late, with Sears tapping MPG for media chores in May (that assignment includes Kmart) and Wal-Mart picking The Martin Agency and MediaVest in January following a lengthy and controversial review process. Electronics retailer Best Buy is currently in play with three finalists contending.