Agents of Change Don’t Smile

One of the more popular posts here is “Smiley Face Savvy” (reLink) in which the hiring of Chrysler’s director of marketing communications, Julie Roehm, by everyone’s favorite retailer, Wal*Mart, got me to imagine and lay out a plausible future for online marketing and sales using virtual worlds in combination with rapid-manufacturing processes. It’s not that I expected Wal*Mart to be doing anything like what I documented in one or five or even ten years, but having been at a large consumer products manufacturer in the late 90’s, when Target was initiating their new, more upscale strategy, I sensed that the day would come when Wal*Mart would also need to go beyond their distribution efficiencies and Chinese-sourced, low-cost goods. That they, too, would someday have to make dramatic changes of the kind being implemented by Target (we should all remember how big a deal it was for Target to go from a regular retailer no different than K-Mart or Wal*Mart to where they are today).

So when Ms. Roehm was hired away to fill a custom-made position in Bentonville, I and most people realized that Wal*Mart was finally beginning to feel the pressure; that the advantage of being first in China was wearing thin. Yet now, Advertising Age is reporting that Ms. Roehm is leaving Wal*Mart. From the Ad Age article (Link):

Julie Roehm, who spearheaded the recent $580 million Wal-Mart Stores agency review, has left the company after less than a year on the job, according to a Wal-Mart spokeswoman. She joined Wal-Mart in the new position of senior VP-marketing communications in early February after a controversial stint as director of marketing communications at Chrysler.

“I was hired by Wal-Mart as a change agent a little less than a year ago,” Ms. Roehm said in an e-mail to Advertising Age. “One of my first orders of business was to help spearhead a comprehensive agency review. Now that I have established the Marketing Communications organization and completed the agency review, it’s time to tackle my next challenge.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that I know little about the marketing community, but this turn of events has me wondering if the real force behind Chrysler’s online activities was the lieutenant. Industry eyes are probably back on that guy (whose name, unfortunately, escapes me). Guess I’ll be keeping an eye on Chrysler.