The Global CMO Interview: Rick Bendel, Walmart

'I Don't Believe That Working With a Single Global Agency Would Give Value'

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LONDON ( -- Walmart is the biggest company in the world, but it operates under 54 different brand names across the continents. Rick Bendel, Walmart's international chief marketing officer, works hard to keep the company's values consistent without losing the hyper-local relevance it believes is the key to success.

Rick Bendel
Rick Bendel
Mr. Bendel is responsible for all marketing strategy outside the U.S. He joined Asda, Walmart's U.K. supermarket, four years ago from Publicis Worldwide, where he was chief operating officer.

With a global marketing budget of $2.4 billion, Walmart works with different agencies in each country, including Saatchi & Saatchi in the U.K.

Ad Age: Will you ever rebrand as Walmart around the world?

Mr. Bendel: Retail is an incredibly local business and a shop's franchise is based around people's experiences. We are protective of the fact that our business has been built up locally. ... I don't believe that working with a single global agency would give value. ... It's lazy to copy.

Ad Age: Except for the U.S. and the U.K., where Walmart bought Asda, the company has struggled in major developed markets, pulling out of Germany and South Korea in 2006 and losing money in Japan. Where are you the most successful?

Mr. Bendel: In developing markets like South America, India, China and Central America. We go into places where there are big economic challenges and recruit people from the area, so we all share a mission try to help people by making things affordable and accessible.

When we arrived in India five years ago, there were 2 million mom-and-pop shops, and in Mexico, there were 1.5 million mom-and-pop shops, but big supermarkets did not exist.

Our supermarkets have created a sense of safety, particularly in the favelas [Brazil's slums], where people can get cash and have the reassurance of armed guards.

Ad Age: How does the marketing center of excellence work?

Mr. Bendel: Everyone involved in marketing around the world, from CMOs to graduate trainees, comes to the academy for at least two and up to eight weeks, followed by a period of a month working in an Asda store. The courses are tailored to either developed or developing markets.

I also travel around the world giving talks and consulting, and have monthly video conference calls with Stephen [Quinn, CMO of Walmart] where we talk and share information on best practices. I interview all our new CMOs and bring them to the U.K. for eight weeks before sending them out to their own markets.

Ad Age: Are there any marketing synergies around the world?

Mr. Bendel: In China, where they love theater, we have a big hand on a stick, with a finger pointing to the quicker checkouts. In the U.K., we are experimenting with webcams so that people can check how busy the store is before they leave home. It's the same concept, just applied differently.

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