BENTONVILLE, Arkansas: High melodrama on Thursday, stretching from the rugged Ozarks to the concrete canyons of Manhattan. Or, more precisely, from the boardroom of the planet's largest retailer Wal-Mart to its third largest advertising group Interpublic.

Exactly six weeks after awarding its $580 million (€436.2m; £295.5m) advertising account to IPG's newly merged DraftFCB entity, Wal-Mart has put the business back in play, "based on new information that has come to light in the past two weeks".

Two days prior to this announcement, a brace of key Wal-Mart executives made abrupt and unexplained departures from the retail giant [WARC News: 06-Dec-06].

One, Julie Roehm, svp, marketing communications, is said to have played a pivotal role in awarding the business to DraftFCB. The other departee was Sean Womack, vp for communications architecture.

Wal-Mart is zip-lipped as to the connection, if any, between the hurried departures and DraftFCB's firing. It stated, however, that the agency will not be permitted to repitch for the business.

DraftFCB decined comment on the severance save to express its disappointment.

There is no similar decision to disqualify Carat, the Aegis Group-owned network that successfully pitched alongside DraftFCB for the media buying element of the account. According to Wal-Mart, it will be allowed to pitch again.

It is not yet known if the repitch will be open to all comers or confined to those shops that made the final round of the first review - Ogilvy & Mather, The Martin Agency and former incumbent GSD&M.

In full fire-fighting mode, IPG ceo Michael Roth yesterday issued a memo to all units within the Interpublic empire. It read: "However disappointing the [Wal-Mart] news is, it should not become a distraction for us as we focus on our turnaround, which is taking hold on so many fronts."

Data sourced from AdWeek (USA); additional content by WARC staff