JCPenney Taps Top Kraft Executive to Be Marketing Chief

JCPenneyPlano, TX—JCPenney today filled a longstanding vacancy on its top executive list. Confirming rumors, the department store named Debra Berman as senior vice president of marketing, effective August 2.

Last month, Advertising Age reported that Berman, who had been vice president, vice president, marketing strategy and engagement, directing global brand strategy and customer engagement for all Kraft-owned brands, was in the running to fill JCPenney’s top marketing spot.

Michael Francis, former JCPenney president under former CEO Ron Johnson, had been in charge of marketing for the retailer but Johnson fired him last summer and took over most marketing duties until Johnson was then ousted in April.

Commenting on the appointment, Myron “Mike” Ullman, JCPenney’s chief executive, said that Berman’s desire to join JCPenney “is a testament to our brand and its potential. Her broad experience and success as a marketing strategist for major consumer brands make her the ideal leader to help us continue to reconnect with our core customer through effective promotions and campaigns that will increase excitement and loyalty now and over the long term.”

Since becoming chief executive, Ullman has been trying to fill vacancies after many top level executives left after Johnson’s departure or were dismissed. While Francis had been in charge of the chain’s marketing, merchandising and product development, the last chief marketing officer at JCPenney was Mike Boylson who retired in 2011.

JCPenney hasn’t been without marketing guidance, however. Jeff Herbert, former CMO at Aflac, had been an interim adviser until July.

‘Eager to Restore JCPenney’s Place as Iconic Destination’

Berman will have her hands full indeed with her new position. JCPenney is trying to turnaround not only its sales but its image, too. Last spring, JCPenney even took the unusual step of creating a video for its customers, apologizing for a series of mistakes and asking them to return and shop.

Debra Berman, JCPenney's new senior vice president of marketing

Debra Berman, JCPenney’s new senior vice president of marketing

In its first quarter report, the retailer said sales plunged 16.4% to $2.635 billion with comparable store sales down 16.6%. While its second quarter results are pending, JCPenney is banking on a strong back to school showing to help steer the company into an improved second half of the year.

Then last week, news reports claimed that one of its factors, CIT, had stopped lending to its smaller suppliers due to credit concerns. JCPenney rebuked the report, claiming not only was it untrue, the retailer has support of all its key vendors and “ample liquidity to manage its business.”

In her statement about her new position, Berman said, “There is huge opportunity to remind America’s families why it is so great to shop at JCPenney while attracting new customers to the brand. This can be achieved through targeted campaigns that creatively highlight our unique and authentic combination of style, quality and value. I am eager to begin working with Mike and the entire team to restore JCPenney’s place as an iconic destination for customers for important occasions and all the times in between.”

According to Advertising Age, Berman was basically “CMO for the newly formed Kraft Foods, overseeing media and marketing strategy for brands that spend in excess of $500 million globally on advertising.”

Before joining Kraft in 2009, Berman spent almost five years as strategic planning director at DDB Advertising where she was vice president of marketing strategy and directed global brand strategy for all Kraft-owned brands, such as Grape-Nuts, Fig Newtons, Triscuits, Jello-O and Maxwell House, etc.

Before that, Berman held senior strategy planning roles at Sterling Brands, Young & Rubicam and Swander Pace and Company. Earlier in her career, she held positions of increasing responsibility at advertising firms JWT, Saatchi & Saatchi and Lintas.

 

 

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Jeff Prine, Editor at Large, Accessories Magazine
Jeff returns as a regular contributor to Accessories magazine. Initially Jeff worked as senior editor at Accessories more than 20 years ago and his love of the industry has followed him until present. Since his tenure here, Jeff has continued to report jewelry, watch and other luxury goods trends as executive editor at Modern Jeweler magazine, fashion director at Lustre, and as contributor on products and trends for consumer and trade publications and websites. In addition to his editorial experience, Jeff also served as an adjunct instructor for accessories merchandising at Fashion Institute of Technology. jeffp@busjour.com