ABN Amro North America is stepping up its marketing efforts as it tries to integrate a slew of acquisitions it made in the past year.

The $97 billion-asset subsidiary of Dutch banking giant ABN Amro NV is searching for a chief marketing executive to help raise the brand awareness of ABN Amro and its U.S. subsidiaries.

The company declined to comment on the search for a marketing chief but acknowledged that, as the company has grown, the need to project its image has become a greater priority.

"The company overall is looking at where it's going from here," said spokesman Christopher Hartweg.

In Chicago, ABN Amro has tried to build its LaSalle Bank brand with an acquisition spree during the past 10 years.

ABN Amro operates 130 Chicago banking offices under the LaSalle name. The company also has expanded its securities business, buying Chicago Corp. It is trying to run other businesses, including private banking, under one national umbrella.

Peter Crist, president of Crist Partners Ltd., the executive recruitment firm that has been tapped to find a marketing chief, said the company wants to hire a seasoned executive who can create a national brand identity.

The problem for ABN Amro is that it still has little name recognition and operates under different company names, including LaSalle in Chicago, European American Bank in New York, and Standard Federal Bank in Michigan. Company officials have been vague about their plans for a single brand.

ABN Amro is hardly the first company to focus on branding. In recent years, large regional banks, including KeyCorp and Banc One Corp., have hired key marketing executives and launched major brand campaigns. But it would mark a dramatic shift for ABN Amro.

First Chicago NBD Corp., which owns the biggest bank in Chicago, has been cognizant of its brand identity as well. It hired Opinion Research Corp. of Princeton, N.J., to interview 1,000 bank customers, investors, and analysts to determine the value of the brand names that First Chicago uses.

"Marketing is obviously a key priority for any business," said First Chicago spokesman Richard Johnson.

In December, ABN Amro gave its advertising agency, Cramer-Krasselt of Milwaukee, additional duties in public relations. The 175-person Cramer- Krasselt shop has been responsible for helping the Dutch company get more media exposure. However, no ABN Amro executive would agree to be interviewed for this article.

ABN Amro acquired $15.8 billion-asset Standard Federal Bancorp., Troy, Mich., in May; $800 million-asset Columbia National Bank of Chicago in November; Comerica Inc.'s $1.4 billion-asset Chicago subsidiary last August; and the investment banking firm Chicago Corp. in January.

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