Julie Roehm – marketing’s femme fatale

January 17, 2012

So Julie Roehm, femme fatale and arguably the only larger-than-life personality left in marketing, has managed to land herself a proper job again – as VP marketing at global software company SAP.

Unlike Jodie Fisher, the “marketing consultant” who brought down HP CEO Mark Hurd, Roehm really is a high-profile marketer. Glance at her CV (conveniently at hand on LinkedIn) and you will see that the past 5 years positively teems with starry advisory roles. Look a little further down the list, and you will note that she has held down some pretty senior marcoms appointments too, at Ford, Chrysler and Walmart. No trumped up “meeter-and-greeter”, no former reality-TV starlet, no bimbo she.

One thing – apart from the bottle-blonde big hair – that Fisher and Roehm do have in common, though: they are both tireless self-publicists.

To give the flavour, here’s an extract from Roehm’s personal website, written by an uncritical admirer at Hallmark:

You immediately know she is courageous, brave, in command.  When I tell her this, she smiles that trademark Roehm smile, mix of fine intuition, confidence, fierce focus and remarkable intelligence.  “Fearlessness is like a muscle.  The more you exercise it, the more natural it becomes to not let fears run you…that’s a favorite from Arianna Huffington.”

Clients seek her because she’s a warrior with a guru-like ability to feel and predict what makes consumers need, not want.  Believe, never doubt.  Buy, not browse.  Rev up, not idle.

Notoriously unafraid of controversy and a good, clean fight for the right, Julie is an intrepid, yet infinitely calculating innovator.

Strip away the cringeworthy, obsequious tone and you can see why Julie would be highly attractive to an otherwise successful client suffering from lack of image self-esteem; and, equally, why she might be a bit of a nightmare to work with.

The “notoriously unafraid of controversy” bit refers, of course, to the only reason Roehm is known this side of the Atlantic. Her last full-time marketing job was as senior VP-communications at Walmart, from which she was ignominiously fired after 9 months. Walmart’s idea of conduct unbecoming might seem absurdly straitlaced in this part of the world. Nevertheless, Roehm was well aware of the risk she was running when allowing herself to be so extravagantly lionised by the Draft FCB top team flaunting their (oh so temporary) $600m account win; and even more so when she engaged in an “inappropriate” email correspondence with her sidekick Sean Womack.

Roehm simply doesn’t know what reverse gear is. Absence of fear stood her in good stead during her marcoms years in the motor industry, where some saucy ad ideas – like men standing around in urinals talking about the length of their trucks – actually managed to shift metal. But it ended up making her more “famous” than the brand she represented. After the Walmart episode she was unemployable for 5 years, though she made a good fist of going freelance.

Will things work out better at software infrastructure company SAP AG? Leopards and spots come to mind. SAP ought to know what it is doing: Roehm has already worked there as a consultant. Then again, the same could probably have been said of Walmart, with which SAP shares some repressed, correct, organisational values. I also wonder whether La Roehm’s personality is too big for the fishbowl world of B2B – a source of potential frustration for both sides.

Of one thing we can be tolerably certain, though: existing ad agencies need to be on their creative mettle. Watch out Ogilvy, which has held the global $100m SAP account since 1999. A review is sure to be on the way.


Omnicom closes $100m Communispace deal

January 25, 2011

Silence reigns at Omnicom Towers on its mooted $100m deal with eCRM and insight company Communispace. Which is odd, for two reasons. First, it is the biggest deal engineered by the marketing services juggernaut since its ill-fated acquisitions of Agency.com and the somewhat more successful Organic in 2003. Second, and rather crucially – I hear the deal has gone through.

At all events, Communispace founder, president, chief executive and 10% shareholder Diane Hessan is packing her bags (now presumably heavy with loot).

The question is, what happens now? In an earlier post, I pointed out that $100m is a very steep price – yet, curiously, it does not seem to have been a stumbling block for that wily operator John Wren, Omnicom president and chief executive officer.

At the time I concentrated on the financials, and speculated that there must be something very special about this deal for Omnicom to hazard such an over-priced acquisition. That logic can be applied with equal relevance to Communispace’s clients. True, there are many the two parties have in common, plus a few that Omnicom would like to lay hands on. Yet it’s hard to ignore the conspicuous conflicts. Not just on the brand side, either. A slug of Communispace’s business flows from Omnicom’s rival agencies. Here’s an excerpt from AdAge that neatly summarises the conflict dilemma:

One reason why an Omnicom deal would make sense? Communispace lists as its clients several marketers that work with agencies under the holding company’s banner, including HP, PepsiCo, FedEx, Kraft and Campbell. But the Communispace client list also includes agencies at rival holding companies, like Havas’ EuroRSCG, Publicis Groupe’s Starcom MediaVest Group and Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Martin Agency. Were an Omnicom deal to happen, such alliances would likely have to dissolve, as would accounts with clients like Verizon, a major competitor to a big Omnicom client, AT&T.

I’d add WPP’s Ogilvy to the list of competitors as well (check out Jim Edwards at BNET on this one).

How does Wren plan to steer himself around that one? His last experience with a major acquisition, controversially managed through off-balance-sheet vehicle Seneca Investments, was not a happy one. Let’s hope history does not repeat itself.


Omnicom close to $100m deal with Communispace

December 13, 2010

Omnicom is poised to clinch a $100m deal to acquire eCRM and research company Communispace, according to sources in a position to know.

Communispace specialises in creating communities online – it claims to have over 350 in operation. It can mine and shape sophisticated customer database material for large, blue-chip clients – which often find difficulty in establishing the actionable status of “chatter” in the social media sphere. Communispace clients include Coca-Cola, Campbells, Colgate, Hasbro, Heinz, HP, Microsoft, Pepsi and Unilever.

Communispace was set up in 1999 by current president and chief executive officer Diane Hessan, a Harvard MBA. It is based near Boston, Massachusetts, but has global reach, with offices in London; Genoa, Italy; and in the Asia Pacific region, operating out of Sydney, Australia. Maria Rapp, a founder of Communispace, is managing director of European operations.

Communispace is 43% owned by California-based Dominion Ventures Inc. A further 13% is in the hands of Boston-based Women’s Growth Capital Fund. Senior staff appear to own the rest.

It is easy to see why Omnicom would be interested in buying such a company, but not why it should be paying so high a price –  if financial data that has come my way is any guide. Communispace’s 2010 gross revenue is expected to be $47m and profit before tax, $6.3m: which suggests an already high price/earnings multiple of about 16. Additionally, however, just under 30% of that profit-before-tax figure is expected to be siphoned into an options bonus scheme for senior Communispace management, which would effectively make the multiple soar well into the 20s. It has rightly been pointed out that Omnicom is not normally known for its financial extravagance. Nor has it been particularly active on the acquisitions front recently. There must be a pretty important piece of mutual business at stake to justify paying Communispace’s $100m asking price.


%d bloggers like this: