Ex-Wal-Mart marketer speaks

December 8, 2006

Wal-Mart this week dumped advertising agency Draft FCB from its $580 million account and started searching for a replacement, unravelling the work of its former senior vice president of marketing Julie Roehm.

Roehm, who parted ways with the world’s biggest retailer under a cloud of controversy this week, sat down for a telephone interview with Reuters. Here’s what she said about Wal-Mart, DraftFCB, a suspect dinner at New York hotspot Nobu and allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate.

Below is an edited transcript of the interview:

Reuters: Could you comment on the dinner with DraftFCB at Nobu?
Roehm: In the process of any agency review it’s important to get to know the people that you are hiring, because at the end of the day you are hiring people who provide a service not a product or a widget. That requires that you get to know them, how they think strategically, who they are as people, because it’s part of negotiations. You want to make sure you are not only hiring the agency, but specifically, the people who are going to serve your business. In many instances, we certainly did have dinners with all of the agencies involved and obviously this was an example of it. Actually, in this case I don’t believe it was a dinner, I think it was just a gathering and there were hors d’oeuvres served. That said, it’s not uncommon or out of character to do those kinds of things with agency partners or even potentially agency bounds. 
Reuters: Did you feel this overstepped Wal-Mart’s strict guidelines?
Roehm: They are very strict, there’s no question. Our assumption is that in large gatherings, such as something like that where obviously there are things like hors d’oeuvres and there are not specific bills handed out, our discussions with our agency partners were to bill us back. So my assumption was that that was what was occurring in that instance. In terms of drinks of any sort, which I know was reported in Business Week, I bought my own drinks personally and we do have records to verify that. 
Reuters: Did Wal-Mart bring up this dinner when you and Wal-Mart parted company?
Roehm: They did not. None of it was ever brought up. Nothing of anything that has been reported was ever brought up. 
Reuters: Do you know if they have talked to Draft about this?
Roehm: I do not know. 
Reuters: What reasons were given when you parted ways? 
Roehm: From a legal perspective I can’t speak on it. 
Reuters: Were you fired or did you resign? 
Roehm: Right now we’ve agreed to separate ways 
Reuters: So somewhere in-between those?
Roehm: That’s right. 
Reuters: Did Wal-Mart investigate you? Do you know where the reports are coming from? 
Roehm:  I don’t know where… obviously there are a lot of people who are in town and with the company so I’m sure you can find people to say just about anything. In terms of what was reported: Yes, I did attend an event at Nobu; Yes, I did sit in Howard’s (Howard Draft, DraftFCB CEO) Aston Martin. In terms of all the other components, I think those are the only things that are really being talked about. 
Reuters: There have been questions about a relationship with a subordinate. 
Roehm: No. Well, certainly I have relationships with all my subordinates, but in terms of an inappropriate relationship? Completely untrue.

(Photo: Reuters / Julie Roehm in Feb. 2002, when she was director of Dodge Communications. She stands next to Chicago Blackhawks hockey player Eric Daze.)

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