Walmart job an offer H+K's Bartlett couldn't refuse

Soon-to-depart Walmart EVP for corporate affairs and government relations Leslie Dach is undoubtedly one of the most respected and powerful people in the PR industry.

Soon-to-depart Walmart EVP for corporate affairs and government relations Leslie Dach is undoubtedly one of the most respected and powerful people in the PR industry.

The former Edelman exec was number one on PRWeek's Power List back in July 2011. And he ran the PR department at what is typically the number one or two on the Fortune 500 list, making great strides in turning around perception of the company and engaging Walmart's staff to be advocates for, rather than detractors of, the retailer's reputation.

So when it was revealed by PRWeek earlier this week that Dach will be replaced by Hill+Knowlton Strategies' president and US CEO Dan Bartlett when he leaves Walmart next month, there's no doubt it was one of the stories of the year in the communications space.

Bartlett will report directly to Walmart CEO Mike Duke, who joined the world's largest retailer in 2009 to succeed Lee Scott. Earlier this month, Bloomberg News speculated that Duke himself was on his way out in the coming months, citing Walmart executives Doug McMillon and Bill Simon as possible successors.

As far as Dach is concerned, after seven years in the role it is understood he had become disillusioned with the commute to Walmart's Bentonville base from his home in DC. Indeed, it was significant that the release to accompany the appointment of Bartlett stated he will relocate his family to Arkansas.

Bartlett leaving H+K is undoubtedly a blow to the WPP firm, and is yet another example of the significant changes at senior levels that we outlined in our Agency Business Report earlier this month. But when a job of this size comes along, he no doubt found it very difficult to turn down.

H+K is filling in the gaps internally, for the time being at least, with Andy Weitz stepping up to take on Bartlett's role while retaining his existing responsibilities as global co-chair of its corporate practice. Danner Bethel becomes US COO.

Walmart works with agencies including GolinHarris, Cohn & Wolfe, Edelman, and Mitchell Communications at the moment, with GolinHarris significantly expanding its business with the mega retailer this year.

H+K already works with Target, so any possibility that Bartlett's appointment would channel some work in the direction of the WPP agency is unlikely to come to fruition, at least in the short term.

And who knows on what terms Bartlett is leaving the agency anyway. Sir Martin Sorrell is not known to be a patient man with underperforming parts of his network, and the fact that the PR section of WPP's marketing services empire was down 4.1% year over year in Q1 is unlikely to have endeared the constituent PR agencies to him.

Sorrell tends to make his feelings very clear on these matters, as you would expect of someone in his position. Indeed, this was what led to the replacement of the Paul Taaffe/Mary Lee Sachs era at Hill+Knowlton with Jack Martin and Bartlett at the start of 2011.

Maybe Bartlett grew tired of this scrutiny, though he has a strong constitution forged as senior counselor to President George W. Bush, where he oversaw strategic communications planning, formulation of policy and implementation of the president's agenda.

He was also in charge of the White House press office and Offices of Communications, Media Affairs and Speechwriting, and Global Communications. And he played a key role in George W. Bush's presidential and Texas gubernatorial campaigns, so he is no stranger to scrutiny and high-pressure situations.

This experience will stand him in good stead at Walmart, where the to-do list includes dealing with the fallout of bribery allegations in the retailer's Mexican operations, lower sales due to the recession and pressure from online retailers, and continuing workforce issues.

It is a tough but inspiring assignment. But such is their scale and reach, that when the Walmart family comes a calling it is difficult to turn them down.

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