Penney marketing chief steps down as ads disappoint

Tue Jun 19, 2012 3:36am IST

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(Reuters) - J.C. Penney Co Inc (JCP.N) said on Monday that Michael Francis, a key member of the "dream team" the retailer assembled to carry out its transformation of everything from pricing to merchandising, was leaving the company, just months after he was lured from Target Corp (TGT.N).

The move, announced in a brief statement, comes weeks after the department store operator said it had a worse-than-expected 18.9 percent drop in same-store sales for the first quarter as it tried to wean consumers off of coupons and frequent discounts as it adopted everyday prices.

Francis, 49, was president and responsible for marketing and merchandising.

Chief Executive Ron Johnson, who took the reins in November after coming from Apple Inc (AAPL.O) said last month that the retailer's advertisements had not clearly explained to shoppers the shift in its pricing strategy, a lynchpin to its turnaround efforts.

Two weeks ago, Johnson announced at an investor conference that Penney was bringing back the word "sale" in its advertising.

Macquarie Research analyst Liz Dunn, who spoke with the company after the announcement, said Penney wanted to pursue a different approach to marketing.

"I think they've decided to go in a different direction with the marketing and that was something that Michael Francis owned - the marketing piece of it," she said. "Although the ads were beautiful and fun, they weren't resonating."

Penney's ads, many of which have featured comedienne Ellen DeGeneres, were faulted by many critics for not focusing on product and prices, and ultimately confusing consumers

Francis was one of a number of executives hired away from Johnson's alma maters Target and Apple, where Johnson had built a successful retail chain before leaving last year.

Francis spent most of his career at Target. At the time of his hiring, Penney lauded him for helping to make Target "the nation's leading upscale discount store" and for having "courage to re-imagine the department store experience."

Before leaving for Penney, he had been Target's chief marketing officer.

Francis, 49, was an expensive hire: when he joined Penney in October, he was given a signing bonus of $12 million and 1,000,000 Penney shares as part of a package worth $44.7 million.

Penney shares fell 5.5 percent to $22.98 in extended trading Monday afternoon after the departure was announced.

The company did not give a reason for Francis' departure. It said that Johnson will assume direct oversight of Penney's marketing and merchandising functions.

(Reporting By Phil Wahba in New York and Brad Dorfman in Chicago; editing by Andre Grenon and Leslie Gevirtz)

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