The largest retail giant in the United States has learned the secret to offsetting any negative perception about its practices in the media. Working closely with their corporate executives and high-profile key media personnel, Wal-Mart is seeking to establish a new identity. Since perception is everything, their goal is to create a new way of thinking, a sort of “re-branding” of itself, and is using media relations to accomplish that goal.
The negative air that surrounds the retail giant is due in part to executive decisions to:
1) Outsource jobs to other countries, thereby reducing the number of available jobs here in America and,
2) Significantly reduce industry wages, leading to disgruntled, unhappy employees who generally voice their concerns – – to the media!
Wal-Mart has long been heralded as the progenitor of ultra deep discount shopping. They provide their customers with an unmatched experience in cutting costs and saving money. They have always seemed to able to attract and lure customers away from their faithful shopping venues. They very adeptly lead them into the Wal-Mart chatting mantra of “Always Low Prices, Always.”
Other retailers who have dared to get in the path of the Wal-Mart train have been halted, and even some, have been stopped. Basically, they have never had to answer for their actions, except in the cases of lawsuits. They have generally been able to conduct business as they please, routinely and frequently setting claim to retail territories, both unmarked and occupied.
So what and why is Wal-Mart now deciding that they need to realign their reputation and the talk in the marketplace? They are beginning to realize that with power comes responsibility. And, with that responsibility is the need to further explain their actions and make others aware of why they have made the decisions they have.
“The Bentonville-based retailer is more media savvy and is learning that being the world’s largest retailer also makes it the biggest target.”
Being the Best Is Not Easy
Wal-Mart realizes that they are a target for negative talk, simply because they are SO big. Consumers want to enjoy sales and discounts without feeling like they are being taken advantage of. Wal-Mart has not felt any obligation towards that notion – – until now. Since so much negativity circulates its deep discounts cash drawers, Wal-Mart is being proactive in its approach to the media, offering its side of the story. They are involving the media more heavily, relying on the media’s ability to re-paint a nicer, gentler picture of them through their words and images. It would seem that the media has a tall order to fill in helping to transform the image of the great Wal-Mart.
Which Media Venues Are Successful?
In addition to press releases and newspaper write-ups, Wal-Mart does use and will continue to use a fairly new medium of media relations to get its transformation message out there – – blogging. If you go to the Wal-Mart blog, you will read how they are attempting to include and engage the online community to participate in their journey towards change. They are not only interested in giving a laundry list of what they think and what they’re going to do, but rather also interested in knowing exactly what the customers think about their business practices and situations. The bloggers appear to be employees of the company, but that is somewhat difficult to tell.
Bad Public Relations = Decrease in Sales
Wal-Mart has also begun to figure out that negative public relations can put a hamper on sales and growth. Giants like this would do well to learn one thing: customers can always take their business elsewhere. Although they pride themselves heavily on having the best and lowest prices available anywhere, Wal-Mart has often been accused of not fully considering and taking into account its employee communications, healthcare benefits and the key contributors to their massive retail success.
The Future of Wal-Mart and Media Relations
If Wal-Mart does decide to fully engage the media in their business developments, they have made a wise decision. The media can transform public opinion about almost any industry, with the right mix of words and images. It is an art. Wal-Mart has obviously discovered this and is taking every available opportunity to make sure their name and reputation is unharmed. Good media contacts should be able to help them with that.
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