Friday, December 8

Taking The Bottom Position

Two days ago, we alluded to the idea that Julie Roehm was only the first casualty of a Wal-Mart insider marketing war. Yesterday, the fine folks at Draft FCB found out they were the next to go, just weeks after they crowed about being in the 'top position,' partly because they won the account. I guess it's back to the bottom position for them, making their ill-advised ad the ultimate case study for irony in advertising.

The not-so-surprising news yesterday was that Wal-Mart quickly overturned Roehm's Draft FCB choice, putting $580 million worth of advertising purchase power back on the table. Several major agencies are already pulling together their marketing plans for the nation’s largest retailer.

Ms. Roehm maintains that she did not accept gifts from agencies vying to become Wal-Mart advertising superstars or that her relationship with subordinate Sean Womack violated company policies. Instead, she told The New York Times: “I think part of my persona is that I am an envelope pusher,” she said last night. “The idea of change in general can be uncomfortable for many people, and my persona as an agent of change can prompt that feeling.”

This seems to be a spin contrary to her attendance at a September dinner given by Draft FCB at the Manhattan hot spot Nobu, where she allegedly explained her presence as one of those cases where “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Unfortunately for Roehm, sometimes you do get what you don't ask for, since Wal-Mart has ruled the search process was "tainted by the pair’s behavior and should be reopened."

Draft FCB's (part of the Interpublic Group of Companies) stock fell 6.4 percent on the news it had lost the account. As I often advise clients in Roehm's position and higher, behavior is easily managed. Unless you'll be proud to see the story appear in the Wall Street Journal, er, The New York Times, don't do it!

All cloak and dagger courtships aside, Draft FCB was not ready for the holiday season and neither was Roehm, based on a USA Today story that weak Wal-Mart sales are dampening holiday season hopes.

What USA Today seems to miss is that the 'dampener' might be all Wal-Mart and not all retailers. Given that the agency review was concluded dangerously close to the holidays (not bright), that choosing an ROI (Return On Ideas) agency delivered a dismal negative .01 percent in sales for Nov. (assuming they got anything off the ground), and that Wal-Mart is in desperate need of some top-down strategic communication development to prevent it from further losing its way; I'd say it is not the best national holiday sales indicator at the moment.

You see, it used to be that Wal-Mart was unbeatable because it had a solid message that other retailers could not compete against. Today, Wal-Mart has voluntarily given up this message in order to pursue what it perceived as greener pastures (higher-end retail). Unfortunately, it did this without developing a core message with complete consensus among board members and executives.

In fact, that is why I don't give Roehm "I'm a change agent" as much kudos as some. Her "follow-me-on-faith" approach left the world's largest retail giant without a message, at best, and with a message unsupported by its core consumer, at worst. Gee, I thought we already covered this lesson back when Miller beer alienated its blue collar consumer with ads aimed at a micro-brew generation. Ah, history, let's repeat it. Ah, history, let's repeat it.

2 comments:

Rich on 12/8/06, 1:18 PM said...

Famous Last Words:

"Our new business machine, separately and now together, has been on fire this year, welcoming new business from such major marketers as Citibank, Merrill Lynch, Wyeth, MoneyGram, Novartis, Dow, MetLife, Roche, Schering and NAACP, among several others. We’re also winning major new assignments from some of our current clients.

Our culture is based on the key underpinnings of integrity, accountability, creativity and client-centricity. It will remain so. Let’s not let this situation shake our confidence. Our best days are ahead. We can feel it."

-- A partial Draft FCB memo from Howard, Jonathan, Laurence and Bob that unfortunately demonstrates their need for crisis communication experience.

Dimitrios Christofileas on 7/7/07, 12:23 PM said...

I have work experience from FCB in Athens, Greece plus a Bachelors in advertising and marketing communications and a post grad diploma in corporate comms and I CAN'T get A jOB IN advertising... WHY GOD ???!!!

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