16 June 2019

Wal-Mart Marketing Chief to Step Down

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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 said.

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 advertising.

Click here to access the full article on The Wall Street Journal.

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