Thursday, September 09, 2004

Amazing Admission 

The New York Times ran a story Thursday about Wal-Mart that contained an amazing admission. It should be a case study for every PR practitioner.

The CEO of Wal-Mart admitted in a conference held in Manhattan that the mega-retailer was responsible for its own image problems. Here is the key quote:

"What we found is that there is a different group of stakeholders today that are important and that is a person who's not familiar with Wal-Mart stores, they're not familiar with what we stand for. So their view of Wal-Mart stores is what they read in the newspaper and what they see on TV. We have decided it is important for us to reach out to that group."

PR 101, anyone? This was followed by a more striking admission from Mona Williams, the spokesperson for Wal-Mart.

For too long, we thought that if we just focused on our customers then everything else would follow. We probably did not realize soon enough how important it was to work with the media. It is an acknowledgement that the media and others offer important venues for telling our story, and we need to continue doing a better job at that.

In defense of Wal-Mart, it started out as a small-town retailer that followed the principles of its charismatic founder, Sam Walton. Sam died before Wal-Mart had grown into the giant that it is today. He didn't need to think much about the media when the company was smaller, so he ignored them. As Wal-Mart expanded, the size of the company became newsworthy and complaints against it grist for thousands of negative stories.

While one can be astonished at how long it took Wal-Mart to learn PR basics, give the firm credit for absorbing the lesson at last.


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