Debenhams in £20m media pitch

Carat on alert as department store chain opens dialogue with rival media agencies about £20m brief.

Debenhams is talking to agencies about its £20 million media planning and buying account.

The department store has contacted a number of undisclosed shops, and the review is understood to be in the early stages.

The incumbent on the account is the Aegis-owned Carat. Last month, Debenhams consolidated its search marketing account into the digital search agency The Search Works, which fended off competition from Carat for the business.

The agency, which previously handled only the retailer's core search-marketing contract, added the brand-building and personal finance search accounts to its remit.

Debenhams had wanted to explore the idea of working with Carat for both online and offline campaigns, but the retailer's marketing manager, David Worby, said experience of a search specialist could be put to good use for broader marketing purposes. In March, shares in Debenhams plunged £100 million as one of its key private equity backers, Merrill Lynch Private Equity, sold its entire stake.

A month later, the store chain revealed that profits had fallen by 12 per cent to £94.1 million, and warned that the retail environment would remain "challenging".

The company added that it had gained market share over its competitors in all of its major clothing categories, particularly "Designers at Debenhams".

The company's advertising agency, Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, has created a series of recent campaigns, including a press push featuring the actress Jaime Murray.

In November last year, the high-street chain escaped a ban from the Advertising Standards Authority for a press execution, created by MCBD, which featured models posing on a pedestrian level crossing, despite complaints that it could encourage people to play on railway tracks.

Alison Jones, the marketing director at Debenhams, denied a review was taking place. She said: "We are not reviewing our media or creative agencies. We are very happy with Carat and MCBD."

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