When Sears, Roebuck and Company announced that its iconic Craftsman hand tools brand is being sold, I felt a not insignificant twinge of nostalgia. The death of Sears has been predicted again, again, and again, but this time feels different to me. Almost like the end of an era.
I worked in the public relations division of Sears, Roebuck and Company headquarters from 1998-2005. My work there involved serving on the Sears Grand team, the group that promoted the free-standing store notable for its foodstuff, fashion, and an inviting racetrack store layout. I was also there when the company opened its venerable Sears on State store—a dramatic return to the area. Although that store has since closed, its presence downtown conveyed the near-seamless connection Sears had managed to maintain between the past and then-present.
My time at Sears 12 years ago is, admittedly, recent history—shout out to my former colleagues on the Sears Public Relations Alumni Facebook group—but my memories of the company are historical in context. The Sears Catalog. Kenmore appliances. And yes, Craftsman.
These days, my connections to corporate public relations history are scholarly*. I presented at the 2012 International History of Public Relations Conference, which later led to the article Positioning AT&T: A rhetorical analysis of Arthur W. Page speeches. I also presented at the 2013 conference, a launching point for the book chapter Digging for Victory Gardens: A comparative analysis of the U.K. and U.S. World War II gardening campaigns.
There is something special about considering corporate public relations through a historical lens. That said, I’m grateful my experience at Sears was recent enough that I can still share contemporary public relations examples with my students.
Should the day ever come that Sears closes its doors for good, I will hold out hope that reports of the company’s death are greatly exaggerated.
—Cheryl Ann Lambert, Ph.D.
*The International History of Public Relations Conference founder, Dr. Tom Watson, is also the founder of this blog.