Wal-Mart reverts to playing it safe

Appoints low-profile exec to replace Roehm, likely will keep focus on prices

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jneff@crain.com

Wal-mart stores is sending the message-in more ways than one-that it's "moving on" after the Julie Roehm matter, appointing her apparent replacement in its marketing ranks. But the question of what it's moving toward continues to befuddle some.

Wal-Mart has appointed Tony Rogers as VP-advertising, incorporating some of Ms. Roehm's former duties as senior VP-marketing communications in addition to his former duties as senior brand director, Wal-Mart brand, according to people close to the company. Wal-Mart declined to comment.

Mr. Rogers is a low-profile replacement for a high-profile executive suing Wal-Mart for wrongful termination. The retailer claims it has proof Ms. Roehm had an affair with a former subordinate and improperly favored Interpublic Group of Cos.' DraftFCB in an agency review subject to a high-profile do-over in December and January.

Mr. Rogers was VP-marketing for Doritos and Tostitos at PepsiCo's Frito-Lay before coming to Wal-Mart in late 2005. He followed recently promoted Wal-Mart Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Quinn from the snack marketer.

'moving on'

Like Mr. Quinn, Mr. Rogers brings a strong marketing background and appreciation for marketing analytics to a Wal-Mart marketing department that has been heavily stocked with merchandisers in years past.

In a puppet show at Wal-Mart's fiscal-year-end meetings with suppliers and store managers in late January, a puppet representing former CMO John Fleming-last month named chief merchandising officer-took responsibility for messing up Wal-Mart's agency review, according to attendees. The message, however, was: "We're moving on," one said.

Attendees also came away believing Wal-Mart's communications would continue to focus on everyday low prices. "But they do sometimes say one thing and do another," one of the executives said.

The low-price message appears at odds with another goal: closing the gap with rival Target in its appeal to consumers who shop for reasons other than price, such as quality.

In a speech to hundreds of analysts in December-days after Ms. Roehm's firing but before his move to merchandising was announced-Mr. Fleming made it clear he wants to move beyond a price message, according to one attendee's notes.

contributing: lisa sanders
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