Wal-Mart's marketing chief to retire; hires Target's former marketing expert as consultant

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Will shoppers see quirkier advertising coming from Wal-Mart?

The world’s largest retailer confirmed Thursday that its chief marketing officer Stephen Quinn is retiring, and it’s tapping into the talent of former Target executive Michael Francis as a consultant. Francis is best known for his nearly 30-year career at Target, where he helped create the discounter’s cheap-chic image through whimsical advertising.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., based in Bentonville, Arkansas, said Quinn will be leaving the company Jan. 31, 2016. Quinn had joined Wal-Mart in 2005 as a senior vice-president of marketing and was named to his current position in 2007. In 2008, Quinn led Wal-Mart’s rebranding effort that included the introduction of a new logo and tagline — Save money. Live Better.

The move to hire Francis as a marketing consultant comes as Wal-Mart is looking to reach out to higher-income shoppers where it sees more growth. It has also been making changes to its top management under Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon. The company’s chief financial officer, Charles Holley, is set to retire by year-end. And in October, Wal-Mart’s U.S. division named Steve Bratspies as chief merchandising officer for U.S. stores.

Francis left Target Corp. in October 2011 to join J.C. Penney Co. There, he served as president and worked for then-CEO Ron Johnson, who was spearheading a major reinvention plan that ended up being a disaster. Francis developed quirky advertising and monthly catalogues that marketed Johnson’s strategy called “everyday prices.” That plan eliminated most temporary promotions. But shoppers wanted frequent discounts, and Francis abruptly left in June 2012 amid a profit and sales tumble. Johnson was fired by Penney’s board in April 2013.

After his stint at Penney, Francis served as a consultant at Gap and then joined DreamWorks Animation in December 2012, where he worked closely with Wal-Mart executives. It was announced this past summer that Francis planned to step down from his job as chief global brand officer later this month.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Deisha Barnett said that Francis will be helping out with marketing, advertising and figuring out ways for the discounter to engage with its customers. She declined to say whether Francis’s consulting role would be full time or part time.