Two reputations clearly damaged in Wal-Mart/DraftFCB mess

It isn’t just recently-fired Wal-Mart CMO Julie Roehm who is dealing with a tattered reputation right now. Chicago-based integrated marketing agency, DraftFCB, is in deep water as well.

Both have seen their business practices and ethics called into question in the wake of Wal-Mart’s G553021 firing Ms. Roehm as CMO and DraftFCB as its new agency, putting its mega ad account up for review again and stipulating that Draft couldn’t compete for the biz.

The conflagration resulted from the high-flying Roehm’s having "crossed the line" during the initial Wal-Mart agency search by cruising around in an Aston-Martin owned by a Draft executive and being wined and dined at an uber-expensive restaurant by the same agency. Roehm is also accused of sleeping with her number two at Wal-Mart.

Wow! Bentonville, Arkansas is starting to resemble Wisteria Lane.

Regardless of what did or didn’t happen, Wal-Mart’s decision to initially hire the provocative Roehm was clearly a cultural mismatch of epic proportions. Wal-Mart is famous (or, should I say, infamous) for squeezing the very life blood out of its employees and suppliers. And, its executives pride themselves on cutting corners on pricing each and every quarter. So, hiring Roehm as a ‘change agent’ and turning her loose to find the ideal, new strategic advertising partner was clearly an accident waiting to happen (considering Roehm’s controversial and checkered advertising past, most notable for pushing the taste and decorum envelopes).

Roehm’s denied sleeping around, but said her fall from grace at Wal-Mart was caused by the company’s changing its mind on strategic direction. Whether she’ll be able to revive her career remains to be seen.

DraftFCB, meanwhile, is forwarding media inquiries to Wal-Mart and refusing to admit blame. Bad move. Very bad move. Sweeping a crisis under the rug and hoping it will go away doesn’t work. Draft’s management needs to conduct an internal investigation ASAP to find out whether ethical and moral lines were crossed in its ‘win-at-any-cost’ pursuit of the Wal-Mart business. If bad things were done, heads should roll and new policies enacted.

Wal-Mart’s firing of Roehm reminds me of the old saw, "be careful what you wish for." It just might come true." The "every day low prices" people hired a hellion to totally change their marketing mindset. And, boy oh boy, did they ever get what they asked for. Now it’s time to pick up the pieces, look in the mirror and decide what their comfort level really is.

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