Sears, like most of its competitors in the big box retail industry, is struggling to maintain its current status in a shrinking market. This is not a controversial statement; parent company Sears Holdings’ stock has yet to reverse its gradual decline, which is one reason why it has made so many changes to its agency roster in recent years.
We hear that Sears Holdings took an unusual step when negotiating its current contract with Havas, which emerged from the extended Kmart creative review victorious last September as Publicis New York won lead duties on the Sears brand.
According to our sources, part of that contract required the Havas organization to share its entire employee database with the client.
This would be part of Sears’ focused Big Data efforts, which began several years ago before hitting a speed bump in 2014 with news of a breach at Kmart. The company has made data and targeting a big part of its ongoing recovery–see, for example, this 2012 InformationWeek article on efforts to improve its IT operations and this Fortune piece from last summer on the Sears repairman as a high-value “data vehicle.”
Sources tell us that the purpose of the unusual agreement between agency and client was to expand the latter’s existing consumer database while also monitoring whether Havas employees might happen to be shopping at Sears or Kmart.
Both Sears and Havas declined to confirm this. From a client spokesperson:
“Sears Holdings values its agency relationships and appreciates the work they do to help us reach our members. Like any advertiser, we do not discuss the terms of our vendor agreements publicly or respond to industry conjecture.”
The agency made a similar “no comment” statement, noting that “it would be irresponsible” to elaborate on such contractual specifics and reaffirming the Havas network’s support for all of its clients’ brands.
Various parties tell us that Havas employees have in some way been encouraged to double as Sears/Kmart customers and that the agency was required to satisfy an unspecified commitment on this front in order to retain the full account.
Havas Worldwide employs more than 10,000 people globally. Several thousand of those staffers work within North America, which is also where most of Sears Holdings’ retail outlets are located.
Before it won the Kmart business last year, Havas had been handling promotional efforts for such in-house Sears brands as Diehard, Kenmore and Craftsman in addition to “mass media assignments.”