Unruly Julie and Wal-Mart joined force to rock and change the Ad World (Lessons learned)

March 20th, 2007 Update: See new post “Roehm Wal-Mart scandal – court filings update

Dec 13 Update: For some more background on Wal-Mart, you may want to read Charles Fishman’s 2003 Fast Company article “The Wal-Mart You Don’t Know” and his 2006 book “Wal-Mart Effect“. I’ve read the great and insightful aritcle. And I’ve put the book on my to read/scan queue.


Looks like the trusty AdAge has decided to go all out to report on the Julie Roehm & Wal-Mart scandal with various reports and even a video. There are just so many new and old AdAge entries that I still have to read, including the greatly titled, “Unruly Julie and the Scandal That Rocked the Ad World“.As you may have noticed, I decided to put my spin on AdAge’s title and add my view on it. Let me try a bit of Jimmy Carter and explain my title (OK, not as detailed and as controversial as President Carter’s new book title).

FYI: Here is a Charlie Rose interview of Lee Scott, CEO and President of Wal-Mart, originally aired on August 1st, 2006. This insightful interview provides some very timely background insight of what Wal-Mart was thinking then. Straight from the top of Wal-Mart of their new focus on value (and not just the lowest price). [K: In the interview, Lee mentioned a “reach out to a more complext world”. I think that idea is gone and, sadly, Wal-Mart is back to the simple world where “a handful” of complians can and have changed Wal-Mart’s communication plan. I keep thinking about Canada’s Eaton’s. It was founded in 1869 and lasted for 130 years until it went bankrupt in 1999. So I guess giants, if they are unable or unwilling to adapt, do fail sometimes. I think someone needs to have a Sam-Walton-style talk with someone soon.]

Unruly Julie and Wal-Mart joined force to rock and change the Ad World

It is not an accidental that I said the two “joined force to rock and change the Ad World”. In my humble opinion, the unintended consequence of this scandal has to be some changes in how the advertising industry itself is operated. Another uninteded consequence of the title is that, IMHO, the “unruly” probably applies to *both* Julie and Wal-Mart.

If no one can learn a lesson from this mess (to create a new game), it will be sad. But worst, if everyone learns a lesson, but no one can see pass the competitions between agencies and have some cooperation added to create a condition for co-opetition to force some industry-wide change, then it will be even sadder.

If nothing is changed, may be the Ad industry does deserve various new scandals that cancels people’s Easter, Thanksgiving, Xmas, New Year’s, and Summer holidays periodically. After all, Ad execs are so hard working and don’t really need any holidays, right? Now, seeing your boss and co-workers instead of your own families and friends over holidays may not be the cup of tea for everyone but who knows.

Enough Bull Shiitake from me on the title of this post instead of talking about the juicy scandal.

AdAge interview Video

This is a great video interview excerpt. As I have never meet Ms. Roehm, this gives me some limited sense of what she is like as a person (ok, speaking in front of a reporter and camera).

She seems energetic, down-to-earth and excited of the fresh approach Wal-Mart seemed to be willing to try. So sad to see the “opportunity made in heaven” turned out badly for everyone (her, Wal-Mart and the bidding Ad agencies) for now.

Here are some articles that I read and may reference here,

Sex scandal

Quoting Ms. Roehm, “There is no improper relationship. Absolutely not. I’ve had this my whole career. … I’m meant to have slept with about half the men I’ve worked with, so I clearly get around, but I can tell you I’ve never experienced any of the benefits of that.”

If Wal-Mart has any evidences of the “improper relationship” between Ms. Roehm and Mr. Sean Womack, then table them for people to judge and Ms. Roehm to defend herself. Or else, Wal-Mart should shut up about it. The time of Wal-Mart being their own police, judge and jury has passed. A whisper campaign about sex scandal is lowest way to discredit someone. Ms. Roehm looks like a charming and pretty lady but I am sick of woman being attacked and treated differently than man. Until the day the business community (and Wal-Mart included) has learned the important lesson of fair and equal treatment of women, may be we don’t deserve the contributions of women.


Ms. Roehm has denied that she has received “any gift or gratuity”. Lets see Wal-Mart’s evidences to show otherwise. A wall of silence after this kind of attack from unnamed sources really make me sick.

Nobu sushi

This one just doesn’t make any sense. OK, so Roehm said she paid for her drinks and I believe her. Now, since the food bill was to be sent to Wal-Mart as expense anyway, what was the problem here? It was not like she was going to pay for the food herself. The meal was on Wal-Mart’s account anyway. This one is just stupid.

As an aside, I wanted to laugh when I read that Wal-Mart executives got so worried and paranoid that they make sure they pay for coffee, bring their brown-bag lunch to clients’ meetings, and pay for their drinks in a hosted bar. Makes me feel like sending a copy of “Don’t sweat the small stuff” to Lee Scott and his executive team.

DraftFCB AdForum presentation

Ms. Roehm shouldn’t have attended this presentation and shouldn’t show any favourites. It is just simply unfair to the others.

Quoting from this Chicago Tribune article, “DraftFCB urged to respond in wake of Wal-Mart loss“,

On Thursday, Wal-Mart fired DraftFCB and said it would hold a new shootout among ad agencies because of “new information we have obtained over the past few weeks.” Wal-Mart did not expand on the nature of the information. […]

Roehm, who had been at Wal-Mart less than a year, came out of the auto industry, where wining and dining of customers is a common practice, as it is in many others. [K: This is the cultural difference.]

Wally Petersen, DraftFCB spokesman, said the agency is unaware of what information Wal-Mart has and suggested those questions are best put to the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer. […]

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the company does not intend to expand on its reasons for pulling its business from DraftFCB.

“We are not going to disclose any details,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams. [K: May be Wal-Mart believe they are the biggest kid on the block and is not accountable to anyone. And they can do whatever they want. Since the leaked accusations have been so serious, I honestly think that Wal-Mart owns it to Ms. Roehm, the hundreds of people at DraftFCB, the general Ad community, and the general public to reveal what solid evidences Wal-Mart has to make those wide-ranging accusations.]

Here is an insightful comment from AdAge, “Echoes of the Wal-Mart/Roehm Account Review Debacle“, [K: Great insight from Marc Brownstein]

Conduct chemistry checks as part of the review process (not as part of a courting process, as was the case in the Wal-Mart review). Give each agency the opportunity to get to know the client and vice versa. And do it in a systematic way, so each agency receives a fair shot of demonstrating who they are and why they may be a fit. Chemistry checks should be done in the agency, to get a feel for the culture. And out of the agency, at a restaurant, ballgame, or bar. There’s no better way to see if you can work with someone than when you get them out of the office and into a social setting. […]

I guess the real rub is in wasted time, productivity and its affect on agency morale. If a small agency commits to a pitch, believing that it’s a fair contest, the commitment is significant. Weeks, and often months, are devoted to a pitch. Hard and soft dollars are spent in the hunt. It takes a toll of your team and impacts your paying clients, as many of the same resources are diverted to win the agency’s next account. If you win, it’s champagne for everyone. If you lose, it sucks for everyone at the agency. But if you lose, and discover that your agency never had a fair shot of winning, that’s flat-out wrong.

To end this post on a lighter note, I suppose Wal-Mart knows itself enough to reserve the website www.WalMartSucks.com for its exclusive use in case of a mess like this. I am sure they will be updating www.WalMartSucks.com with the latest exclusive insider information. Unfortunately, “new information” on the webmaster for that site has been found so the site will be “Under Construction” for a while. (smile)

Dec 12 Update: Looks like Media Post has a new interview of Ms. Roehm, “Julie Roehm Speaks: Former Wal-Mart Marketer Eyes Future“.

2 Responses to Unruly Julie and Wal-Mart joined force to rock and change the Ad World (Lessons learned)

  1. […] Dec 11 Update: I’ve added a new post “Unruly Julie and Wal-Mart joined forced to rock and change the Ad World” Dec 9 Update: I’ve added a new post “Ms. Julie Roehm’s cultural clash with Wal-Mart“. […]

  2. […] Dec 11 Update: I’ve added a new post “Unruly Julie and Wal-Mart joined force to rock and change the Ad World” […]

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