Best Buy marketing chief departs

  • Article by: THOMAS LEE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 2, 2012 - 10:38 PM

Barry Judge is the third senior executive to leave the beleaguered company this year.

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Barry Judge

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New Best Buy Co. Inc. digital chief Stephen Gillett just got a whole lot busier.

The former Starbucks executive, already tasked with beefing up Best Buy's digital operations, will now also oversee the consumer electronic retailer's multibillion-dollar global marketing machine. The move came after Best Buy said Wednesday that Barry Judge, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, left the company.

"Barry is leaving the company to explore the next chapter in his career, while Best Buy is taking advantage of the opportunity to leverage the skills and experiences of additional senior leaders," said Greg Hitt of H&K Strategies, who is acting as a spokesman for Best Buy. "We wish Barry well in whatever the future brings his way."

Judge did not respond to a request for comment. He is the third major executive to exit Best Buy in recent weeks, after the departures of Geek Squad founder and Chief Technology Officer Robert Stephens and Chief Executive Brian Dunn. The board is investigating whether Dunn improperly used company resources to carry on an affair with a female staffer.

Company officials said Judge's departure is not connected to the probe.

Industry observers say retailers are moving away from employing an executive whose sole responsibility is marketing. And instead of relying mostly on traditional television and print advertising, retailers are embracing strategies that better integrate marketing with digital technologies like social media, websites, and mobile devices.

Walgreen Co., for instance, recently eliminated its CMO position. And Minneapolis-based Target Corp. recently hired digital advertising guru Jeffrey Jones to replace Michael Francis as its top marketing official.

"Technology is driving the marketing, not the other way around," said Carol Spieckerman, president of Newmarketbuilders, a consulting firm. "This is a good time for Best Buy to make a major strategic decision like that."

Spieckerman credits Judge, Best Buy's CMO since 2008, for some good work. Under his watch, Best Buy invested heavily in its NASCAR campaigns, a move that paid off when Matt Kenseth, whom the retailer sponsored, won the Daytona 500 in February.

The retailer also bought ads on the Super Bowl, enlisting the help of celebrities like Justin Bieber and Ozzy Osbourne to pitch its stores. In the most recent Super Bowl, Best Buy featured 10 relatively unknown wizards in mobile technology who created everything from text messaging to music sharing.

But Spieckerman said Best Buy never put those pieces together into a coherent story. Instead, Best Buy has mostly used its marketing to highlight sales and specific products.

With Judge gone, the company's hopes now fall squarely on the shoulders of Gillett, a former chief information officer for Starbucks.

As executive vice president and president of Best Buy Digital and Global Business Services, Gillett, 36, oversees BestBuy.com and other e-commerce efforts at a time when the Richfield-based company is trying to better integrate its rapidly growing digital sales with its struggling physical stores.

Now he can add marketing to his to-do list.

"It's a lot to put on anyone's plate," said Jeremy Brunelli, a retail analyst with Consumer Edge Research in Stamford, Conn. "But it's a good step to increase Best Buy's transition from brick-and-mortar stores to digital, which is becoming increasingly more important" to retailers.

Thomas Lee • 612-673-4113

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