Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s longtime chief marketing officer
is leaving, and the retailer is reaching outside the company for some help by
bringing on a former marketing guru at Target Corp. Stephen Quinn, who
has been Wal-Mart’s marketing chief since 2007, is expected to retire in
January, at the end of the retailer’s fiscal year, according to people familiar
with the situation. Mr. Quinn wasn’t immediately available to comment.
Wal-Mart is planning to hire Michael Francis, who
spent nearly three decades at Target and was an architect of Target’s
cheap-chic image, as a marketing consultant, said a person familiar with the
situation. Mr. Francis will initiate a broad revamp of Wal-Mart’s marketing department
and will likely work closely with Mr. Quinn’s eventual successor, this person
The shake-up adds to a growing list of executive changes the
world’s largest retailer has made in recent months as CEO Doug McMillon works
to spur a turnaround and focus the company’s investments on long-term goals
like boosting e-commerce sales and making stores more efficient, as well as
appealing to higher-income shoppers. In October, Wal-Mart said longtime CFO Charles
Holley would retire at year’s end and Steve Bratspies would
become chief merchant.
Mr. Francis is finishing up a nearly three-year stint at DreamWorks
Animation SKG, where he served as chief global brand officer. But the marketing
executive is best known for a nearly 27-year career at Target, where he helped
forge some of the retailer’s well-known designer partnerships, like a line of
home goods designed by architect Michael Graves and limited runs of
luxury items from fashion houses like Missoni.
The hiring of Mr. Francis by rival Wal-Mart is likely to
rattle some Target executives given the crucial role Mr. Francis had in shaping
Target. “If I was still working Target, my heart would just sink,” said a
former Target executive.
Since Mr. Francis left Target in late 2011, his career has
been mixed. He jumped to J.C. Penney Co. to serve as president
under then-CEO Ron Johnson. But Mr. Francis lasted only eight months in
the role as Mr. Johnson implemented what turned out to be a disastrous strategy
to try to wean customers from discounts. Executives blamed the sales decline on
poor marketing that offered little detail on product or pricing.
Mr. Francis briefly advised Gap Inc. after
leaving Penney. He joined DreamWorks in 2013, where he oversaw branding and
licensing as well as consumer products for the movie studio. In August, he said
he would step down from his role at DreamWorks.
Wal-Mart executives say they are working to attract more
middle- and upper-income households, something Mr. Francis excelled at while at
Target. “Globally we know growth will disproportionately come from middle- and
upper-income households in the years ahead,” said Mr. McMillon during an
investor presentation in October.
Mr. Quinn, a former marketing chief for PepsiCo’s
Frito-Lay North America division, joined Wal-Mart in 2005. He lead the team
that created the retailer’s “Save money. Live better.” slogan. During his time
at Wal-Mart he helped convince a wide swath of executives to value marketing at
a company that has not always done so, say people familiar with his tactics.
The exit of a marketing chief often results in changes to a
company’s advertising messaging or the agencies the company employs. Wal-Mart
now works with the Martin Agency, a unit of Interpublic Group of Cos.,
among others. Media buying is currently handled by Starcom MediaVest, a unit of Publicis
Groupe SA. Ad-tracker Kantar Media said Wal-Mart spent an estimated $902.4
million in U.S. ads in 2014, not including digital video, social or mobile
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