JCPenney (NYSE:JCP) has hired former Kraft Foods executive Debra Berman to head up marketing, the struggling 1,100-store chain said on Monday (Aug. 5).
Berman, who actually started on the job last Friday, arrives at a point when consumers still haven't returned to the chain's stores in large enough numbers and Wall Street analysts have begun to lose confidence. For example, Citi analyst Deborah Weinswig said last week that she doesn't see signs that the retailer has turned around, and downgraded the stock.
A bigger problem for Berman is that she will have to move very quickly to do anything to shore up back-to-school sales, which have so far been weak for most retailers. That will have to be followed by another fast effort to gear up for the year-ending holiday season.
Penney's has been without a full-time marketing chief for more than a year, and arguably longer. Under ex-CEO Ron Johnson, JCPenney president Mike Francis was responsible for marketing until he was fired last year, after which Johnson handled marketing until he was fired in April. Johnson and Francis tried to reposition Penney's for more upscale customers, but the effort was a disaster, with sales falling 25 percent.
In the meantime, longtime Penney marketers left under Johnson and their Johnson-hired replacements left after Johnson's departure. While the chain's bench hasn't been completely depleted, Berman may have to reach farther down in the ranks than usual to form her team.
Another potential problem: Berman's lack of retail apparel experience. Berman is "a well-respected marketer, but can she sell blouses in malls?" University of Michigan business professor Erik Gordon asked ABC News. "Penney's learned from Ron Johnson that marketing success doesn't always transfer." But he added that with Berman's background at Kraft, "she won't repeat the mistake of being too hip."
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