Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

SAP Names New Marketing VP, One With a History

Business software giant SAP has hired Julie Roehm — a former Wal-Mart marketing exec with a resume that includes time at Chrysler and Ford — as its new senior VP of marketing. According to Advertising Age, Roehm will report to SAP’s chief marketing officer, Jonathan Becher. SAP doesn’t appear to have issued a statement on the hiring, but Roehm has updated her LinkedIn profile to reflect the move.

If the name seems familiar, then perhaps you remember something of the episode resulting in Roehm’s acrimonious departure from Wal-Mart. The retailer hired her in 2006 in an attempt to bring its brand image into the 21st century and make Wal-Mart an acceptable choice for higher-end consumers.

A lengthy Wall Street Journal profile that year ran through the highlights of Roehm’s pre-Wal-Mart career: Racy double-entendre-laden ads for the Dodge Durango; a campaign with the tagline “That thing got a Hemi?” promoting Chrysler’s muscular engine. In 2004, she hatched an idea for something called the Lingerie Bowl, a pay-per-view event, tied to that year’s Super Bowl, which was to feature scantily clad women playing football. Car dealers and conservative groups complained, and Chrysler withdrew its sponsorship. Early successes at Wal-Mart included a 2006 TV campaign that poked fun at electronics retailer Best Buy.

However, Wal-Mart fired Roehm at the end of 2006 over accusations that she carried on a romantic relationship with a subordinate, Sean Womack. Wal-Mart also accused her, in a court filing, of using company-paid travel to conduct the affair. Roehm was also accused of accepting gifts from executives of an ad agency she ultimately selected, which Wal-Mart said violated company policy.

What followed was a full-blown ad-industry scandal. Womack’s wife turned over emails between Roehm and Womack, more or less proving the affair. Roehm sued Wal-Mart in 2007, accusing then-CEO Lee Scott and other senior executives of accepting gifts of travel and concert tickets from suppliers, and benefiting from preferential prices on items like boats from the Minnesota billionaire Irwin Jacobs. It only got uglier, until a judge dismissed her suit; the lawsuits appear to have ended.

Roehm doesn’t seem to have much history working on campaigns for business-to-business products of the kind that SAP produces. Even so, given her reputation for trying to shake things up with sleepy brands, it will be interesting to see what she does with SAP.

SAP is definitely on the move. Two months ago, it spent $3.4 billion to acquire SuccessFactors, a cloud-based maker of human resources software. That deal was only the latest in a string of deals by traditional software companies to roll up cloud-based outfits. SAP is also making noises about its own cloud, and will probably want to spend lavishly to market its Business ByDesign and HANA products this year, which SAP’s co-CEO Bill McDermott discussed last year with AllThingsD. That’s going to require some new marketing messages that will probably be like nothing the company has ever done before. It will be fun to see how it evolves.


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