JCPenney (NYSE:JCP) is about to lose its part-time chief marketing officer, and is trying to recruit Kraft Foods marketing VP Debra Berman as its full-time CMO, Advertising Age reported on Monday (July 22).
Berman, who served as Kraft's de facto CMO when it was spun off from Mondelez last October, was with the Kraft division before that since 2009. Before joining Kraft, she worked at a succession of major advertising agencies.
The struggling retailer has been without a marketing chief since June 2012, when president Mike Francis left as the 1,100-store chain's problems under then-CEO Ron Johnson became clear. Francis headed up marketing efforts but never had the CMO title. In the time since Johnson was fired, Penney's has used former Aflac CMO Jeff Herbert on an interim basis; Herbert's contract ends this month.
With back-to-school looming, whoever takes over the retailer's marketing will face a major challenge. Outside the company, the chain's reputation with customers is slowly recovering from the no-sales-no-coupons policies of Johnson, who also eliminated many brands popular with Penney's traditional shoppers as he aimed for higher-end customers. Berman's strong advertising experience might make a fast start possible, which is critical for the back-to-school and holiday periods.
Inside the chain, much of the retailer's top marketing management has left in the wake of Johnson's departure, including four marketing VPs: Lisa DeStefano-Orebaugh, Greg Clark, Sissie Twiggs and Eric Hunter. While some groups within JCPenney recovered from the loss of Johnson-era hires by promoting longtime Penney veterans from within, that may not be an option for marketing, where many experienced employees left after Johnson's direction became clear.
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