We'd All Be Happier If Julie Rhoem Was Still At Wal-Mart


You know what this whole Wal-Roehm scandal is all about? Nothing. She just got caught. Hundreds of agency and client-side executives do exactly what she allegedly did and no one ever hears about it. We're not saying that makes it right. We're just saying.

But let's examine further. She's accused of having dinner with agency execs. What marketing director hasn't done that? She's accused of taking rides in ad execs fancy cars. Who wouldn't want to do that it offered? She accused of indicating to an agency exec said agency had the upper hand. Who hasn't been optimistic when discussing business with a potential partner? She's accused of accepting gifts from ad agencies courting the Wal-Mart account. Oh please. What agency on this earth doesn't do that when trying to win an account and what marketing director doesn't slide them into their briefcase before anyone notices?

She's accused of having a "relationship" with a subordinate. Anyone who works in marketing organization knows it's just one room over from a dating service. She's accused of turning a boring stockholder meeting into something people would actually want to attend. Who really wants to spend three hours discussing boring things like revenue, P&E ratios, gross profits, net income and stock price? OK, so a lot of people do but it doesn't have to be boring. OK, so it was cheesy but still. She's accused of managing through racy ad, called "Sexy," in which a married couple discuss lingerie while audienced by their family. Uh, hello? Everyone has to do the "sex sells" thing at least once in their career.

In and of themselves, there's nothing really wrong with Rhoem's actions. Yes, she did breal some very strict Wal-mart code of conduct rules. But, again, she just got caught and that's when the harm started flying off the fan blades. Draft/FCB had $580 million in potential billings yanked. That's gotta hurt. Draft/FCB was in the middle of hiring a boat load of people. Those recent hires are gong to hurt badly. Wal-mart is without a captain running the marketing ship. That's gotta hurt. Interpublic's stock has fallen. That's definitely gotta hurt. Yes, she did break rules. There's no disputing that. But, to take a contrarian point of view, none of this harm wold have happened had she not been caught. Doesn't make it right. We're just saying.

We know you have comments.

File: Agencies, Opinion    Comments (37)    8-Dec-06    Bookmark This
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Of course that shit goes on. But maybe the Wal-Mart elders weren't ready for it. Just sayin.

Posted by: makethelogobigger on December 8, 2006 12:11 PM

She was in way over her head. 10 years at Ford and Chrysler - where doing an online campaign is considered ground-breaking work (!) did not qualify her for an SVP role at Wal-Mart. She knew it and everyone around her knew it. As for Sean Womack - all car girls are easily wooed by creative types and I imaginie it is slim pickings in Arkansas.

Posted by: GetDrafted on December 8, 2006 12:43 PM

I met both Julie and Sean in a social environment and did see an obvious flirtation between them. You are correct, in this industry it's not uncommon to be romantically linked to another, but it was pretty obvious. They would have been wiser to simmer it down to moments between the two of them, not in front of the whole public.

As far as Julie's other actions, wal-mart is using them as petty reasons to get her out. Dinners, driving in nice cars, gifts are all the norm in this industry from the lowliest assistant to the highest executive- no matter what a company's policy may be. Wal-Mart hired Julie to turn things around there, and fight for the ever-decreasing market share they are losing, but it seems that after all wal-mart just isn't ready, nay WILLING, to evolve, and they will continue to suffer for that.

Posted by: mediasteve on December 8, 2006 01:23 PM

You know who doesn't accept agency gifts? The Military they have the integrity to follow the policies set by their employers.

If I'm wal-mart and my image is of family and whatnot then I don't want my currently most visable employee making my company look bad by boinking her co-workers, generally ignoring my policies on doing business and hiring an agency that puts out ads of lions doing it. But thats just me.

Posted by: ForSerious on December 8, 2006 01:58 PM

I feel so strongly that I commented twice apparently.

Posted by: For Serious on December 8, 2006 02:07 PM

could you have more typos in this article?

Posted by: larry on December 8, 2006 02:07 PM

It was a bad hire in the first place. If wal-mart was ready to accept Julie's 'self quoted "push the envelope style"' than they shouldn't have hired her. And she should have know better and that acting in that way was not going to fly at Wal-Mart. This one was doomed as soon wal-mart offered her the job.

Posted by: Stu on December 8, 2006 02:30 PM

You said it, Make:

"Wal-Mart hired Julie to turn things around there, and fight for the ever-decreasing market share they are losing, but it seems that after all wal-mart just isn't ready, nay WILLING, to evolve, and they will continue to suffer for that."

I've seen this play out in businesses big and small. I'd even make the case that the same thinking is behind our most intractable social problems.

Essentially, management brings in new blood and says, "Give us new outcomes." What gets left unsaid is that no new methods are allowed -- so when the new blood brings in the new methods, the old guard can get rid of both, then blame the continued failure on the new blood.

In this case, that should be good news for Target.

Posted by: Mary Baum on December 8, 2006 02:34 PM

Bullshit, I worked on the Army account when I was at Leo and the Army takes gifts as well. For example thei per diem for dinner is $20.00; which they will gladly pay out of pocket...EXCEPT that the dinner bill is actually something for like 70.00 per person, which of course the agency picks up the tab on.

Wal-Mart will be better for not working with DRAFT; their creative sucks.

Posted by: Teddy P on December 8, 2006 02:45 PM

My nominee for understatement of the year:

Philippe Krakowsky, an executive vice president at Interpublic, said, We were disappointed to hear of Wal-Marts decision.

Posted by: john on December 8, 2006 02:57 PM

it's true - face it, we work in an extremely 'slimey' but fun business -- the first sign of trouble was when Julie was flaunting that car ride with Howard Draft -- you just knew that no good could come of that...

Posted by: astar on December 8, 2006 02:59 PM

And what about GSD+M? How many people were they looking at losing due to the loss? How many years of growth had Walmart had with GSD+M?
Sure the ads aren't as cool as Target- but neither is most of the USA.
I'm sure GSD+M could have changed direction- it's most likely that Walmart isn't capable.
Clients get the advertising and the messes they deserve.

Posted by: David Esrati on December 8, 2006 03:11 PM

Lewis Lazare of the Chicago Sun Times had it right. She was fired for incompetence above all. Those who've been in a room with she and Sean know there wasn't even half a brain between them. The rest of it is just a sideshow for bloggers. The world's biggest retailer cannot have an absolute incompetent in a senior marketing job.

Posted by: arkansas bob on December 8, 2006 03:15 PM

Firing Julie Roehm for accepting dinners, taking joy rides in Aston Martins and cuddling with her creepily incompetent laky, Sean Womack, is the equivalent to busting Al Capone for tax evasion. The truth is that she was clueless and Wal-Mart was just looking for an excuse to dump her.

Posted by: Grave Dancer on December 8, 2006 03:23 PM

Sean? Did you write this article for your new girlfriend? How sweet.

Posted by: Jack on December 8, 2006 03:35 PM

The other truth here is that a huge part of the reason the "harm is flying off the fan blades" directly in Ms. Roehm's face is because she's reaping what she's sown. There can't be this much pent-up hatred in an industry for a person who treats others as he or she expects to be treated. She's an incompetent, a sham, an outright liar and about as deep as a puddle. This, to a large degree, is about karma. The same holds true for Sean Womack. The guy's entire life is jerry-rigged on thin half-truths, at best. He's a former Christian greeting card writer who found himself giddy with the power of helping to steer the ship of one of the world's largest brands--a power that he abused time and time again in ways that were demeaning and inhumane to the people he managed and worked with. Good riddance to both of them!!!!!

Posted by: JulieLickedMe on December 8, 2006 04:17 PM

I'd hit that!

Posted by: Sugar on December 8, 2006 04:35 PM

Affair Perhaps???

On a side note, was this also an affair for both Sean and Julie? I know Julie has 2 kids and Sean 3 kids. Or are they divorced now?

Posted by: P-dazzle on December 8, 2006 05:00 PM

It would have behooved Wal-Mart to hire an Internal marketing change agent vs. external comm. I liked her tactics but they weren't relevant to Wal-Mart's customer - they hired the wrong person for this job.
Spend the dollars on the employees; build word of mouth and increase the value of the promise - all with being the "cheapest" in town. That's how their Operations group did it.

Posted by: kappel on December 8, 2006 05:05 PM

You guys all seem to miss the key point of her ouster. Wal-Mart has some very strict conduct of business and behavior policies they require their employees to adhere to.

No doubt Julie and Sean were informed and instructed on those policies the first week on the job. Bottom line was Julie not only ignored policy but then flaunted it, in front of her bosses, employees and the industry.

So what if every agency tries to woo prospective clients with fancy meals and entertainment. Hard as it is to believe or accept, what goes on in the advertising and media business, is in other businesses tantamount to bribery. The "everybody does it" rational demonstrates the complete ignorance of those who see no wrong doing on Julie's part. She could have easily just said no to the offers that were made to her.

If you were Lee Scott with 1.3M employees what would you do? Wal-Mart has and enforces their code of conduct policies to insure the company and shareholders are not subjected to criminal charges,SEC fines and sanctions, mega civil lawsuits for sexual harassment due to errant employees. If Scott tolerated Julie's behavior he would be signaling all of those 1.3M employees that violating policy is ok and without consequence.

Consider for the moment all of the fringe groups that see Wal-Mart as the Evil Empire of business. Does anyone think Wal-Mart is not being served with thousands of lawsuits every week? Wal-Mart is the ultimate "deep pockets" target for civil liability suits.

All you stiffs that can't figure the justification of these dismissals are destined to become the next Julie.

Posted by: Bruce on December 8, 2006 05:26 PM

I've been on the client side selling to Walmart, and you would not believe the strict ethical culture they have when working with "vendors" - agencies included. I'm surprised it took this long for a move to happen...

Reading about fancy dinners and Howard Draft car rides smelled fishy right away when you have experienced meetings with Walmart in tiny offices with $10 furniture. Also note that their people stay in Motel 6 (or equivalent) during business travel, usually two people to a room!

Walmart's culture if fundamentally about pushing costs out of the system. And fancy car rides and dinners is completely at odds with their history, culture and low-cost business strategy.

After all, they know that their customers would end up paying for fancy agency dinners and cars!!

Posted by: BobG on December 8, 2006 06:19 PM

I was watching CNBC like I do everyday around 3 - 4pm (the only times I'm not hooked on caffeinated beverages) and noticed a campaign for Wal-Mart which seeks to brand the company as a high-end retailer (like that will ever happen).

Hundreds of agencies and executives do what she allegedly did but who cares. She took the initiative to be different and rattle some cages.

Isn't that what marketing should be?

If marketing didn't cause controversy or build brand awareness and PR then what point of hiring a marketer would there be? Sure, marketers could do market research in their cute little cubicles crunching numbers from mall surveys alongside statistics graduates but what's the fun in that.

Let's examine this further. She is accused of having dinner with agency execs.

She is also accused of taking rides in exec fancy cars. Who hasn't been optimistic about a potential partner and changed themselves to be like their potential partners?

She is also accused of accepting gifts from ad agencies to court the Wal-Mart account. Oh big deal.

Our politicans do the same thing. Rememeber, our economy once worked on a barter system and selfishness and competition are just a fact of life. The moment you let your guard down and confirm to what society proclaims as 'morally right' will others step right over you and open a door to success.

Posted by: Julie Rhoem Wal Mart Scandal Discussed on December 8, 2006 06:40 PM

Great rational: "everyone's doing it" and "if you don't do it, others will step over you". What is this? Middle School? Being creative or hard-nosed in business does not mandate unethical or illegal behavior....those who lack solid business skills and and real creativity follow the road she did.

The only cages Julie rattled were those of Wal-Mart senior management...and not from a marketing standpoint. Julie was clueless as to what the Wal-Mart brand stands for: Low prices.

I too have done business with Wal-Mart and like the other comment above, I experienced the same thing. These guys are all about driving costs into the ground. No flash, no high profiling. Any moron can figure out what the Wal-Mart corporate culture is 30 seconds after walking into their lobby! Anyone with an ounce of common sense and average intelligence would conclude that putting on a Broadway revue and all of Julie's other antics was pure corporate suicide at Wal-Mart.

Check out yesterday's WSJ front page about how hard Wal-Mart has been working to improve the corporate image. Was Julie oblivious to those efforts? That would be hard to believe.

Julie is nothing more than one of those narcissistic showboats where everything they do is about "me". Sam Walton probably rolled over in his grave on this one.

Posted by: Bruce on December 8, 2006 08:09 PM

Let's face it, the Julie and Sean show was the most interesting thing to happen to either FCB or Wal-Mart in decades. Wal-Mart's scrooge-like killjoy policies meets adland's amorality. Yum. More please!

Posted by: not-bothered on December 9, 2006 07:39 AM

There are children involved in the public airing out of this mess.

Who is taking care of them? I'd give them all a hug, at least. Not that I am a Wal*mart greeter, but I know how kids hurt.

Posted by: stay home mom on December 9, 2006 09:00 AM

I find it hard to believe that this is all about something as relatively petty as accepting a dinner or three, as expensive as a plate of Miso Black Cod is at Nobu. Wal-Mart had hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in this woman's success. Someone more senior would have made it quite clear that the Detroit client-agency status quo was not acceptable in Bentonville, and anyone smart enough to earn an MBA from the University of Chicago School of Business would have gotten the hint.

There's something much bigger at the heart of this, which may be as juicy as the bloggers and rumor mill suggest. Or it may be as simple as the possibility that Ms. Roehm didn't have a clue about how to operate in a results-driven culture like Wal-Mart's, once her arsenal of potty jokes and other "provocative" ad strategies were taken away from her.

Posted by: TheSenator on December 9, 2006 01:32 PM

The following excerpt from todays NY Times story tells it all:

>>In an interview, John Fleming, the chief marketing officer at Wal-Mart, said the company had indeed begun to backtrack from sleeker advertising that emphasized style over price. Customer research, he said, showed that, rich or poor, Wal-Mart customers care about unbeatable prices.

I dont think Wal-Mart advertising is ever going to be edgy, he said last night. I do not think that fits our brand. Our brand is about saving people money.

Despite all attempts to sensationalize the details, it looks like fired advertising director Julie Roehm was simply not Wal-Marts cup of tasteless tea.

Ironically, Draft FCB might have been the perfect choice to deliver the edgy-less work Wal-Mart is seeking.

Posted by: HighJive on December 9, 2006 01:57 PM

to clarify, the final two sentences in my previous comment are mine, not the ny times'

Posted by: HighJive on December 9, 2006 01:59 PM

"You guys all seem to miss the key point of her ouster. Wal-Mart has some very strict conduct of business and behavior policies they require their employees to adhere to."

Think I mentioned that up front. They weren't ready to accept Mad-ave tactics. But the price thing is another important part of this, I would agree. Wal-Mart, as it does with all vendors, (and that's all Draft was to them), even makes Disney bend over and take it on price for DVD title releases. They will bend to nobody in my experience with them. It's 'what's the best deal you can offer us'?

"Hundreds of agencies and executives do what she allegedly did but who cares. She took the initiative to be different and rattle some cages.

Isn't that what marketing should be? "

Yes, but not at the risk of harming your core brand. Wal-Mart's core brand in this case is $4.88 plastic. Period. This goes beyond taking risk. You don't try and change the essence of what a brand is. They will never be Target. Only innovation they care about is how to ship more P3s.

Posted by: makethelogobigger on December 9, 2006 02:01 PM


I love you like a brother, but you got this one horribly wrong, except for the fact you got a healthy dialogue going, which I guess was the point, which I guess means you got it exactly right.

I'm confused.

Posted by: Your brother from another mother on December 9, 2006 05:34 PM

Exactly, brother:-)

Posted by: Steve Hall on December 9, 2006 06:16 PM

To be clear, Im not condoning breaking the rules. White lies are still lies, blah, blah, blah.

The peculiar thing about all this hoopla is the critics belief that Roehms alleged indiscretions may be unique. Does anyone believe for a second that other Wal-Mart executives never collected gifts from GSDM or other vendors? Does anyone believe for a millisecond that other Wal-Mart executives have never favored one vendor over another? Does anyone believe for a nanosecond that other Wal-Mart executives have never banged a coworker?

Hate Roehm. Definitely hate Draft FCB. But please spare us the sanctimonious outrage. This is the advertising business after all, where daily occurrences take place that would make Sodom and Gomorrah look like, well, Wal-Mart.

Posted by: HighJive on December 9, 2006 07:43 PM

OK, let the debate continue over whether her actions were such a big deal. Sure, there's some juicy stuff in the Womack relationship and I want to hear more!!!

But let's flash back almost three years ago, shall we... when Chrysler's then-CMO Joe Eberhard embarrassedly admitted that he had no clue that wunderhotty Julie signed Dodge on as primary sponsor of the Lingerie Bowl. So, in the fall of 2003, her best strategy to combat the boring Super Bowl ads of her competitors was to overspend on a sponsorship (that she couldn't even activate) of a PPV event with 20,000 buys.

The fact that Dieter Zetsche let that one go signaled to me that she either had pics of him, Wolfgang and Eberhard, or she simply had 9 marketing lives. Lame Roehm was destined to get bitten in her ass sooner or later. It didn't happen at Chrysler, but it happened in Bible-toting Bentonville.

I'm eager to see where she and her lack of marketing smarts go next in life #3...

Posted by: Sponsorship The Inexact Science on December 9, 2006 09:57 PM

I'm stunned at some of the comments posted on here, and by the original posting.

Wal-Mart's policies on accepting any kind of gratuities or favors from any vendor are sacrosanct. They've been part of their corporate culture and policy for decades, and if Ms. Roehm wasn't aware of them or deliberately flaunted them (either of which is bad enough), then a person of her intelligence or ethics shouldn't be in that kind of position at one of the world's largest companies.

Wal-Mart didn't get to be what it is just be cause "everybody else does it." I'd love to be a fly on the wall in some of your offices when your own employees come to you and say, "Well, boss, I know it's against company policy to (fill in the blank) but so-and-so down the street is doing it, and it's the way we did it at my last employer, so what the hell, right? Nobody got hurt!"

I'm surprised to see, too (not necessarily on this blog) that some are saying and writing that Julie Roehm is the fall gal for Wal-Mart's sales slump in November. If anybody is going to be the scapegoat for a downturn in sales, it would be John Fleming, the architect of the company's shift in marketing direction over the last year.

Posted by: ThePhan on December 10, 2006 11:07 AM

Headline of this week's Ad Age: Unruly Julie and the Scandal that Rocked the Ad World


My question to you my brother is this: to what extent is MSM responsible for this mess? After all, it was AD AGE that splashed the whole Aston Martin thing across their front page, sensationalizing the whole doomed review in the first place...

Posted by: Brother from another mother on December 10, 2006 05:03 PM

Question: Why is the rant focused on disparaging remarks about the people who work for Draft or FCB?

I am a client to one of the best creative agencies in the country. Crispin Porter + Bogusky. And yes, they are a pleasure to work with.

My question comes to you based on thoughts around the D/FCB people. The ones who are not the elite 5 at the top of every company. I�m an EVP, Director for a well-liked big brand, I know my EVP counterpart at CPB, or previous agencies had no force to change and alter the various agency policy that you rant about.. It�s still with the fab 5 at every agency. The rest of us dance each day to feed our kids and dream one day, �if I get the chance I will change some things.� Even on the brand side.

The hatred and tyranny that is written is disgusting and disappointing. The people who work at D/FCB are working at an agency 9000 large across the world. It�s the second largest agency. Only about 2200 of the 9000 are in the US! But what about the actual people? For most who you say �hate them,� well, my friends there who are working class creative and account folks would love to pump out CPG creative. Who wouldn�t? But since you have all pointed out that not enough brands are willing to take the risk, who is left to produce the majority of the work?

I have many middle of the road friends that work at D/FCB. And, I also have friends who work there that came from DDB, Leo, Chait/Day, BBH, Fallon and yes, there are a few from Crispin actually working for D/FCB. There are so many good, normal, mature and visionary leaders at every agency who get mottled in the crap. Just like you do. Of the 1200 in Chicago, and 800 in NY�how many are assholes? Don�t say most, it�s just not true. Most are great people who landed from other respected agencies. And folks, they�re simply not the rejects from those agencies. It�s just not true.

Hate the fab 5 for making stupid selfish mistakes. Acknowledge that unless there�s a sea-change in a market, D/FCB client�s will not allow them the risk of breathtaking work, but as John Stossel would say, �Give me a break.� In Chicago where the Wal-Mart account was won, 1195 are people who struggle to keep their kids in college, pay their mortgages and buy gas. The younger people there just want to get a job after college, or mid-level creatives/account/planning/HR and more who found a home in the city of Chicago. Please, hate? And the sources tell that the fab 5 did one thing right, they didn�t hire the 200 poor souls who would be out of a job this Christmas.

I hope I get wind of who any of you are, who hide behind hatred� if my company ever considers you for a win. I would love to hear a slip from you at dinner. I read these blogs and your prose cannot be faked or duplicated.

Oh, subtext for the self-loving purest creative here. At CP+B they do care about data and tangible results. They obsess about it. And they are under-cutting price behind your backs, you just don�t know about it. For them, they just know how to also deliver the goods.

Give me a break.

Posted by: client_side_pitcher on December 10, 2006 05:39 PM

I don't understand the ugly attitude towards Draft/FCB either. But it's my experience that a large percentage of the people who post on sites like these are gadfly-wannabes who don't even have meaningful jobs in the industry. In the '60s they were called groupies. These people mistake memorizing the contents of the One Show for appearing in it. Take their howl of hate for what it's worth.

Posted by: TheSenator on December 10, 2006 06:33 PM

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