The retailer hired a seasoned ad executive with a strong flair for digital technologies and entrepreneurship.
For its new marketing chief, Target Corp. has gone both old school and new school.
Jeffrey Jones, the man Target tapped to replace Michael Francis as executive vice president and chief marketing officer, is truly a creature of both worlds: He briefly led marketing efforts during CEO Paul Pressler's ill-fated tenure at Gap Inc. in the last decade and launched digital businesses as president of the McKinney advertising agency in Durham, N.C.
In Jones, Target officials say they have found someone who can slip easily into the void left behind by the highly regarded Francis, who left the company earlier this year to help former Target executive Ron Johnson resuscitate J.C. Penney Co. Inc. As Target's new marketing leader, Jones will oversee all traditional and digital advertising efforts for the Minneapolis-based retailer.
"Not only does Jeff have a proven track record of success in both the development and execution of countless marketing campaigns but Jeff is also a passionate, dedicated leader who understands the importance of working as a team," Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel said Monday.
Jones can not only help the retailer better integrate Target.com with the physical stores, but also bridge the gap between Target's online and marketing operations, experts and former colleagues say. The two teams have not always worked well, as evidenced by Target's Missoni fashion line rollout last fall, which crashed the website.
"This is a really, really great hire for Target," said Carol Spieckerman, president of newmarketbuilders, a retail management consulting firm. "They needed someone out of the box after a long period of not much happening" with Target's digital operations.
Jones has extensive experience in corporate and agency advertising, having worked at Coca-Cola and at the Leo Burnett ad agency. In 2004, Pressler, a former Disney executive tasked with reviving the Gap, tapped Jones to head its marketing efforts. Under Jones' leadership, the retailer used celebrities like Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker to plug its clothing.
But Gap continued to struggle and Jones left the retailer in late 2005 after less than two years on the job.
Jones found significant success at McKinney, an independent ad agency where executives praised him for his coaching-like management style, digital know-how and entrepreneurial instincts.
"He was a great manager of people and giver of feedback," said Chairman/CEO Brad Brinegar. "He is decisive and quick to act."
Jones was the brains behind "McKinney 10 percent," which required employees to spend 10 percent of their time on projects unrelated to client business.
But it was Jones' digital savvy that really distinguished his time at the agency. He helped Sherwin-Williams create Chip It!, an interactive digital tool that allows consumers to turn any picture online into a palette using the company's paint colors. He also launched and led Motobias, a separate unit within McKinney that helps users create dynamic video.
"Jeff has a great instinct in the use of digital technologies to communicate with anyone," Brinegar said. "It wouldn't surprise me" if that's the main reason Target hired him.
Jones' entrepreneurial skills (he also created LB Works, a unit of Leo Burnett) make him an intriguing choice to oversee marketing at Target, Spieckerman said. For instance, could Target create a separate digital agency or spin out businesses like Jones did at his previous employers?
Wal-Mart, after all, has Wal-Mart Lab, a separate e-commerce research unit, Spieckerman said.
"Jones is a starter," she said. "He likes to start things. The challenge for Target is to keep this guy interested."
Thomas Lee • 612-673-4113