Exec who led plan to retool Wal-Mart out

/ Source: The Associated Press

A senior marketing executive hired by Wal-Mart to help sell more high-end products has left the company after less than a year on the job, the world's largest retailer said Tuesday.

Senior vice president of marketing communications Julie Roehm, who helped lead Wal-Mart's switch to new advertising agencies, left the company this week, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. spokeswoman Mona Williams said.

Another marketing executive, Sean Womack, vice president of communications architecture, left at the same time. Womack was hired this spring and reported to Roehm, Williams said.

Williams declined to cite a reason for the sudden departures or discuss them in any detail.

Roehm was hired in January and reported to Wal-Mart's head of marketing, former Target Corp. executive John Fleming.

Her departure comes after Chief Executive Lee Scott told analysts in October the retailer had gone too far in pushing trendier merchandise and would refocus on promoting low prices.

Wal-Mart last year launched an effort to rekindle slowing sales by offering more fashionable apparel, including its women's Metro 7 line, as well as organic food and flashier electronics. It also began remodeling stores to make shopping more enjoyable with wider aisles, faux wood floors, less clutter and cleaner bathrooms.

But sales at stores opened at least one year, a key measure of retail performance also called same-store sales, have stalled. They were nearly flat in October and negative in November for the first time in a decade, and Wal-Mart expects zero to 1 percent growth in December.

Roehm was an automobile industry veteran who most recently worked to promote Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge. She worked for Ford before joining Chrysler in 2001.

Under Roehm, Wal-Mart invited bids from a number of ad agencies on how to communicate an image of being both a trend purveyor and a low-price operator.

In the end, Wal-Mart severed ties with its two longtime agencies, Omnicom Group Inc.'s GSD&M in Austin, Texas, and Bernstein-Rein Advertising Inc., based in Kansas City, Mo.

Wal-Mart has named Interpublic Group's DraftFCB and Aegis Group's Carat for its ad account, reportedly worth more than a half a billion dollars a year.