J.C. Penney Loses Marketing Exec Amid Department Upheaval

J.C. Penney Co. lost its vice president of strategic marketing to Home Depot Inc., marking the third high-profile exit from that division for the ailing department-store company in the past 10 months.

Lisa DeStefano-Orebaugh will be a vice president of marketing and brand management, Jean Niemi, a spokeswoman for Home Depot, said in an e-mail. Michael Francis departed as J.C. Penney’s merchandise and marketing chief in June, and Greg Clark left as senior vice president of creative marketing in October before being named Jones Group Inc.’s marketing chief last week.

Chief Executive Officer Ron Johnson has acknowledged that marketing missteps such as sending customers less mail and failing to communicate his new everyday low pricing strategy contributed to the company’s plunging sales. Johnson, the former Apple Inc. retail head, took over Francis’s duties after the ouster and said last month that former Coca-Cola Co. marketing chief Sergio Zyman is advising J.C. Penney.

“Our marketing didn’t connect very well with our customers last year,” Johnson said on a Feb. 27 conference call. Johnson said he sought Zyman’s help last year and that the executive “has a unique ability to understand customers and to develop strategies that will succeed on rapid-fire test and response.”

Johnson still is handling some of Francis’s responsibilities, Kate Coultas, a spokeswoman for Plano, Texas-based J.C. Penney, said in an e-mail today. DeStefano-Orebaugh, who reported to senior vice president of marketing Eric Hunter, joined J.C. Penney in 2006, Coultas said.

Television Advertising

J.C. Penney spent too much on television advertisements and not enough on print last year as it aimed to build a brand rather than its business, Johnson said in August. The company, which introduced brightly colored, themed monthly catalogs in February, canceled the mailings for July and “turned off our television” as it rethought the marketing strategy, he said.

The cutback, right before the back-to-school shopping season, didn’t help in a tough year for sales. Revenue fell 25 percent to $13 billion, the lowest since at least 1987, in Johnson’s first year leading the company.

J.C. Penney declined 53 percent from Nov. 1, 2011, the day Johnson took over as CEO, through today. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index gained 28 percent in that time. J.C. Penney fell 1.2 percent to $15 at the close in New York.

DeStefano-Orebaugh, who hasn’t yet started at Atlanta-based Home Depot, will report to Chief Marketing Officer Trish Mueller when she begins, Niemi said yesterday.

Francis, named chief global brand officer at DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. in December, was the marketing chief at Target Corp. when Johnson hired him.

The two worked together at Target, where Johnson led the Minneapolis-based retailer’s foray into home design before joining Cupertino, California-based Apple in 2000.