Julie Roehm Talks To BusinessWeek

This whole, uh, sordid affair, is a huge cautionary tale for anyone thinking of leaping into a new job. BusinessWeek has a good story detailing how things began–and ended for Roehm during her tenure at Wal-Mart.

As fall approached, the deadline for the agency review was looming. On Oct. 15, Wal-Mart finally settled on one of Roehm’s top picks, DraftFCB (IPG ). At the time, both Roehm and agency chief Howard Draft were unaware that someone at his firm had placed an advertisement in an industry publication, celebrating the clinching of several awards. The ad featured a lion mounting its mate with the tag line: “It’s good to be on top.” Not surprisingly, the ad did not go over well inside Wal-Mart. Roehm thought: “Oh my God. This is the last thing we need.” (Wal-Mart would ditch the agency three days after firing Roehm.)
Even small triumphs were turning to ashes. Roehm had helped conceive a TV ad for the Christmas shopping season. It featured a middle-age couple opening presents. The woman, sitting on the husband’s lap, opens a box to reveal a red silk nightgown. With his teenage kids and in-laws looking on, the man grins happily. His wife loves the gown. And Wal-Mart, says Roehm, loved the ad. At first, anyway. Then, she says, the company got word of a complaint from a consumer who saw the ad while watching Desperate Housewives; shortly after, the ad was pulled. Roehm couldn’t believe it. “With a company as big as that,” she says, “you are never going to satisfy 100% of the people.”

I can speak from experience here–and I also once worked for hicks in a southern town–if you’re looking to take a new gig, always, always do your due diligence on a company, its leadership, its culture–and research everything you can find out about a company aside from its press releases. Roehm screwed up on the job, but her biggest screw-up was taking the Wal-Mart job in the first place.

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for TalentZoo.com. Dan published the best of his TalentZoo.com columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. “hicks in a southern town” — are you being serious with that? Because if you are, I think having that kind of mindset may, in and of itself, damage a business relationship from the get-go.
    Just a thought. From someone in a southern town.

  2. gypsy that remains says:

    just a thought
    there are northern hicks too.
    southern was just a location.
    Dont get offended Ms. Southern USA, but “hicks’ is an endearing term to people who love their community and stay in their community and are suspicious of anyone who might want to change that community beyond their comfort zone. Transient gypsies the rest of us are and are looked on more suspiciously than any other group.
    Believe me. Try sailing on into the mystic and get your gypsy soul rocked stomped and trampled on.

  3. Yes, I am serious. I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. And I grew up in the South and live in the South. A hick in a three-piece suit is still a hick. Your worldview is in part shaped by where you live–or have lived–and I’m not picking on the South–it applies because I was referring to Julie and Wal-Mart. Narrow-mindedness can be found in every part of this country. Open-mindedness can, too.

  4. Hell, if “hick” equals narrow-mindedness, there’s no shortage of hicks in New York City, either. Especially among clients.

  5. Great article. I wrote about the Julie Roehm – Wal Mart situation in my blog last December. My conclusion was the same as yours…the ability of executives to mesh with company culture is a key determinant of their success.
    The truth is that Wal Mart is known for taking a snobby and small minded perspective toward the execs with top-tier MBAs. The Wal Mart exec team seems to favor (or at least it did at one time) individuals who have degrees from schools in Oklahoma, Arkansas, or Texas. Ms. Roehm is a graduate of the presigious U of Chicago MBA program and I have to believe that there may have been some animosity toward her because of her pedigree and because of her big reputation upon entering Wal Mart. It wasn’t a cultural fit on either side of this employment situation.
    Liz Handlin