Keds in Search of Size Advantage

Mulls Small East Coast Shops After $10 Mil. Split With S.F.’s FCB
BOSTON–The Stride Rite Corp.’s Keds division has contacted 10 agencies on the East Coast to replace Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, on its advertising account.
The Lexington, Mass.-based footwear maker last week dismissed FCB after nearly three years, citing a desire for a smaller shop closer to home.
“We want an agency where Keds can be a focus,” said Mary Obana, vice president of marketing and new business development at Keds. “That’s where we suffered [with FCB], being a smaller account” at a large shop.
Sources said Keds sacked FCB because the agency laid off director of business development Dave Byers, who managed its account. In addition, the client was displeased that more women staffers didn’t work on the business given that women are its core audience.
“That is absolutely not true. Those were not the reasons we decided to make the change from FCB,” said Obana, adding that FCB will remain on board for a month or two to “finish some projects.”
With a budget of about $10 million, Keds executives are looking for a “full-service agency to take a fresh brand approach,” Obana said.
The client is not working with a review consultant. At this stage, no speculative work is required and agencies may respond to Keds’ query as they see fit, she said.
If one shop immediately stands out, a winner could be named in short order, but if several strong contenders emerge, another round may be needed, Obana said. A decision will be made no later than July, she added.
Obana declined to identify the agencies that have been contacted. Stride Rite roster shop Toth Brand Imaging in Concord, Mass., has no interest in pitching Keds, an agency official said.
Sources said Arnold Communications in Boston was contacted but would likely not pursue the business because of potential conflicts with Converse, Hush Puppies and Foot-Joy.
Keds’ current tagline, “Feel good,” evolved from a positioning crafted a decade ago by defunct Providence, R.I., shop Leonard/Monahan. That line has become associated with the brand to such an extent that “it would be difficult to walk away from,” even after a new agency comes aboard, Obana said.
Keds ranks sixth in the U.S. athletic footwear market, with about $200 million in 1998 sales, an 11 percent improvement from 1997, according to industry journal Sporting Goods Intelligence. It trails Nike, Reebok, Adidas, New Balance and Fila.
–with Jane Irene Kelly
and Judy Warner