Commentary

Wal-Mart Countersuit Fails To Derail Julie And Sean Show

It was a case of the elephant in the room.

On Day Two of OMMA Hollywood came unexpected, yet timely news related to Julie Roehm and Sean Womack, the former Wal-Mart executives who were scheduled to present their ideas on "Marketing 2.x" over lunch. The pair (while married to other people) are alleged to have had an affair while working for the mega-retailer and conducting an agency review. Roehm, who was terminated with Womack from the company late last year, filed suit against Wal-Mart for wrongful termination

On Tuesday, The New York Times broke the news that Wal-Mart had fired back, filing a countersuit offering up details from alleged steamy e-mails between supervisor (Roehm) and underling (Womack).

The suit also offered alleged evidence of their cozying up to DraftFCB (one of the agencies in the review and the one that ultimately secured and then lost the Wal-Mart business), in hopes of potential employment.

Wal-Mart forbids superiors and subordinates from carrying on romantic liaisons and has a strict policy on gifts and favors. That, and it gobbles up entire towns, squashes local businesses, and drums up fake PR campaigns.

Prior to her presentation, Roehm declined to speak about the countersuit or the allegations, referring to a statement from her attorneys John Schaefer & Associates in Birmingham, Mich. In that statement, her attorneys called the countersuit a "smear tactic" and said Wal-Mart took the e-mails out of context.

The statement went on to say: "There can be only one explanation for Wal-Mart's attempt to file a counterclaim (unless, of course, Wal-Mart hates its money and enjoys paying lawyers), and that is that Wal-Mart wants to try to destroy Ms. Roehm."

"It is not a coincidence that in Wal-Mart's proposed counterclaim, Wal-Mart--which apparently reads its employees' e-mails--has chosen only to excerpt small portions of some of those e-mails in its filings. Wal-Mart deliberately chose to take the e-mails out of context, eliminating from its filing some of the substance of those e-mails, and then editorializing about the few actually quoted words that it left behind, putting its own spin on them to create sensationalism."

Consider this sliver of one of the alleged e-mails from Roehm to Womack which read: "I think about us together all of the time, little moments like watching your face when you kiss me," according to the Times report. You can draw your own conclusions.

Despite the swirl of gossip, Roehm and Womack soldiered on, bearing no evidence of strain. In fact, it was only the second time they presented "Marketing 2.x" having addressed a group of marketing industry types on Monday in Las Vegas.

But there was no getting away from the elephant in the room--the only thing roiling more than hungry bellies in the audience was the collective hunger for hints of salacious gossip and innuendo--or any oblique references to the situation.

Womack wasn't playing. No, sir. Roehm was jovial and warm, and managed to make two small references to the issue. One after showing an online video clip of Hillary Clinton: "I'm looking forward to someone else fighting the press," she said with a note of irony. And later, noticing that wine was being served during the box lunch presentation, "Bring a bottle of that wine up here right now," she quipped, in an oblique reference to the events of the preceding 24 hours.

But make no mistake about it. Despite the suit and allegations swirling around it, Roehm and Womack didn't appear whipped. They went on with the show, appearing fairly light and upbeat no matter what they were really thinking.

So, what began as a journey through Marketing 1.0 to Marketing 3.0 ended with a reference to marketers bringing in SWAT teams to address specific problems. Maybe that's what Roehm and Womack need right now. Or, at least crisis PR counsel. Something tells me they did their own best PR on Tuesday by putting their heads down and continuing their work in marketing.

After all, the show must go on.

Watch Laurie Petersen's video interview with Julie Roehm and Sean Womack after their presentation at OMMA Hollywood.
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