September 15, 2005

Wal-Mart Enlists Blogger, Edelman PR

Mike Krempasky, a well known blogger on RedState.org, founder of Rathergate.com, and defender of blogging from the tentacles of the FEC, has joined Edelman PR.

Why is that important? He is on the Wal-Mart account:

My work largely focuses on helping companies appropriately shift conversations online, to not only build a better image - but to actually be better online citizens. The first account I’ve had the pleasure to work on is that gigantic little company based in Bentonville, Arkansas. I can’t tell you what an experience it’s been over the past two weeks - watching this corporate giant lead the way in response to Hurricane Katrina and helping to tell that story.
Opponents have made sure that it's not hard to find extensive information about Mr. Krempasky.

In completely unrelated news, Reuters notes Wal-Mart has a new "secret spin strategy":

And now, Scott has started to drop hints about a secret spin strategy to counter a union-backed, anti-Wal-Mart media blitz that he says is not going to go away.

Scott -- who says his job is to defend Wal-Mart's reputation from those who contend the world's No. 1 retailer pays poverty-level wages and drives competitors out of business -- wouldn't divulge details of the new public relations plan, but he has stressed its importance

Why big media needs to be told how Wal-Mart will deal with big media is anybody's guess; you would figure they already know how these things work. Reuters journalists should ask themselves whether Wal-Mart is already spinning!

UPDATE: WMW is "buzzing", wondering about "dirty tricks", etc. They ask, "Do dirty tricks go hand-in-hand with dirty stores," but come out looking pretty dirty themselves. One can ask with equal righteousness, do dirty tricks go hand-in-hand with a smear campaign? Honestly, I cannot see how anybody can get into a PR fight and come out "clean", especially when the battle involves politicians and policy at every level of government. As you can imagine, Wal-Mart Watch is hard at work examining -- utilizing only "clean" methods! -- Mr. Krempasky's history.

Posted by Kevin at 11:39 AM

September 14, 2005

Should WM Encourage Associates to Fight Back?

With the largest private workforce in the US, composed of people who mostly like their jobs and their employer, Wal-Mart could easily have facilitated a national "grass-roots" campaign composed of legions of rank-and-file associates. Yet, outside of engaging customers at a local, store-opening level, it has not mobilized such a force.

What if Wal-Mart encouraged associates to get involved -- by forming local support brigades, engaging others online, writing articles and letters to the editor, setting up counter protests, writing their own blogs on walmartfacts.com?

It might very well overwhelm the opposition in sheer size, though not in inside-the-beltway connections.

Just a few thoughts.

Posted by Kevin at 9:21 AM

June 8, 2005

WM's Man in Washington

A highly-regulated national economy puts pressure on every organized interest to... um... influence politicians:

WASHINGTON -- Looking to expand its federal presence, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., has hired the chief lobbyist for the National Restaurant Association to lead its growing lobbying team in the nation's capital.

The Bentonville-based retail giant has tapped Lee Culpepper, a 12-year veteran of promoting restaurant industry interests among Washington leaders.

"He'll be the face of Wal-Mart in Washington, D.C., and will help us define our strategy and implement it in Washington," said Ray Bracy, Wal-Mart vice president of federal, state and international public affairs.

The way that this can be twisted and spun is rather disgusting:
"We are big enough and our business crosses so many aspects of our society that it's important that we participate," Bracy said. "We really have an obligation to be involved."
Participate! Obligation! No. No. No!

The function of lobbying is not to inform legislators of the truth, but to persuade them that they shouldn't cross you. Lobbying is at best an unavoidable transfer of wealth to the political classes in exchange for political support; at worst, it is a wasteful, pernicious, and anti-social menace that provides a continual, irresistable incentive for the cartelization of power.

It's important to WM to "particpate" because its opponents already do. Serious business affecting WM -- pressuring Chinese currency revaluation, trade laws, minimum wage laws, trucking laws, environmental laws, etc. -- will be modified in DC whether or not WM has a presence there...

Posted by Kevin at 2:56 PM

April 6, 2005

The 2 Day Conference

H. Lee Scott wants Wal-Mart's detractors to stop the "malarkey" and opponents want Wal-Mart to promise that it will "ensure that the retailer provides protection for small businesses, pension benefits and "real" healthcare for workers before it sets up shop in their community." No, really!

Business as usual, but an excellent and lengthy article.

Posted by Kevin at 9:07 AM

March 7, 2005

Goodbye Size Restrictions!

Wal-Mart has decided to build two adjacent, non-connected, and size-limit-obeying stores in order to circumvent a Dunkirk, MD big-box restriction.

Store officials said plans for a single big store were thwarted by a size limit adopted last year.

The store and garden center in Dunkirk will have separate entrances, utilities, and restrooms, said Wal-Mart officials. They also said the combined size of the stores will be 30 percent larger than the 75,000 square-foot limit for a single store.

I was wondering when they were going to start doing this. The WaPo goes on:
Calvert County Planning Commission members said they might approve the proposed Wal-Mart because the facility is technically two stores -- a 74,998-square-foot main site with an adjacent 22,689-square-foot garden center -- that appear to conform with the regulations.

"There is a loophole," said Grace Mary Brady, a Planning Commission member.

This loophole exists because the more restrictive the law, the more likely it is to be thrown out in court. Active public sentiment is 50/50:
Some residents have expressed their support for larger Wal-Marts and the current Dunkirk proposal. Brady said the 20 e-mails she recently received about the Dunkirk store were evenly split between supporters and opponents of the site plan.

Posted by Kevin at 1:05 PM

February 26, 2005

H. Lee Scott's Recent Speech

He's getting better and better, folks:

Wal-Mart has dramatically upgraded the nature of retail work in America.

Here�s why. The fallacy of the critics is to argue as if Wal-Mart�s growth has somehow come at the expense of better-paying jobs elsewhere in the economy. The truth is that retailing as a sector has consistently accounted for about one of every seven jobs in the U.S. for the last 30 years.

Wal-Mart�s growth (as with the growth of other larger retailers) has basically come within this overall retail pie. And the increasing share of retail jobs supplied by larger, more professional and growing companies such as Wal-Mart has meant (1) more stable employment, (2) unprecedented opportunities for training and career advancement, and (3) the kind of health care, retirement and other benefits that small, financially struggling retailers could never afford to offer.

I think his direct attack on the UFCW is effective. This speech is much better than his recent TV appearances.

And don't miss this one:

When our critics cry, �a company with $10 billion in profits can do better,� it sure sounds like we should. But with sales of $285 billion last year, Wal-Mart earned a return of 3.6 percent � as compared to 8.5 percent for Exxon-Mobil. Seen another way, retailing�s more labor-intensive business model means that in 2004 Wal-Mart earned roughly $6,000 in profit per associate; Microsoft, by contrast, earned $143,000 per associate. For General Motors, the number was almost $12,000.
I think a lot of people will agree that he's demolishing WM opponents' arguments.

Posted by Kevin at 11:47 AM

February 22, 2005

Hillsboro, NH Residents Oppose & Support WM

Joelle Farrell of the Concord Monitor has a neutral assessment of WM's enlistment of residents in a letter-writing campaign. What will city council members do when pro-WM residents clash with anti-WM residents at zoning meetings?

HILLSBORO - Wal-Mart is encouraging local residents to speak up if they want a store in town.

The company sent fliers to nearly 100 Hillsboro and Deering residents who had previously expressed support for the store and asked them to write letters to local newspapers and the Hillsboro Planning Board. The company is asking the town's permission to build a 155,000-square-foot store on West Main Street.

The board has received at least 40 letters in the last three weeks, said Matt Taylor, the town planner, and many letters of support have been published in area newspapers, including the Monitor.

Wal-Mart sent the fliers in response to an opposition group, Hillsborough Citizens for Positive Growth, whose members have made a strong showing at zoning and planning board meetings, hosted a speaker to discuss problems towns may encounter when a Wal-Mart builds and called on the town to keep big-box stores out of Hillsboro by limiting store size to 50,000 square feet.

Maybe, just maybe, anti-WM forces will realize that they are not the only relevant voice of the public.

Posted by Kevin at 8:41 AM

February 15, 2005

WM Fights Back in Canada

I'm busy, so here's the short, short version. Wal-Mart takes out a full-page ad:

Wal-Mart's ad says the company has found the last few days "very trying" and seeks to reassure its employees they are its "biggest strength."

"Never let anyone or the media tell you otherwise," the statement reads. "You represent the cornerstone of our organization and we believe it is a privilege to have such an exceptional team."

The response is, um, harsh:
A union leader likened Wal-Mart Canada to a wife-beater Monday after the retail giant placed an ad in several Quebec newspapers praising its employees as the backbone of the company.

And joy! The small retailer will once again be able to exploit the consumner:

Quebec�s Economic Development Minister Michel Audet doesn�t seem to be too upset over the closure.

Audet says it will be tough for the former Wal-Mart employees but adds that small and medium-sized businesses in Saguenay will be able to fill the hole left by the American retailer.

Posted by Kevin at 11:36 AM

February 9, 2005

Flagstaff, AZ

Wal-Mart gives $20,000 to a local group fighting an anti-big-box ordinance:

Proponents of the City Council's big-box limitation ordinance that passed in September and is scheduled for a referendum vote in May planned to launch their defense campaign today.

But if bank accounts are any indication, challengers of the law that would essentially forbid a Wal-Mart Supercenter already have the advantage.

According to campaign finance reports filed with the City Clerk's Office, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart has contributed $20,000 to Protect Flagstaff's Future, a political action committee formed to overturn the big-box ordinance. Wal-Mart's contribution comprises the bulk of the committee's reported $20,165 it took in through the Jan. 31 filing deadline.

And there's plenty more where that came from.

"We are going to seek more funding from Wal-Mart as we need it," said Frank Dickens, a local Realtor and chairman of Protect Flagstaff's Future. "It's just going to depend on what we're going to need to do for publicity.

Posted by Kevin at 12:08 PM

February 5, 2005

Wal-Mart Fights Back in Ballston Spa

Folks, this is getting interesting. We've previously noted the heated controversy (with residents forming anti-WM organizations) over the not even "officially" proposed Wal-Mart in Ballston Spa. Now, Wal-Mart is using a telephone "survey" to generate a pro-WM petition.

Stan Hudy, a Ballston Spa resident who is also an employee of The Saratogian, received a phone call Friday evening from someone who identified himself as 'Jason from Wal-Mart.'

The man asked if Hudy was familiar with the project, listed some economic benefits of the company coming to Ballston and asked if Hudy was in favor of the proposal.

When Hudy responded affirmatively, the pollster asked if he would be willing to sign a petition, write a letter or attend a meeting in support of the proposal. Hudy said he would not be in a position to do that as an employee of the newspaper, and the conversation was ended.

The call came from a research company called Western Wats, based in Provo, Utah.

Note that the large-scale use of the telephone survey format for market research is a prime reason for the decreasing response rate to rigorous statistical surveys...

Posted by Kevin at 11:45 AM

January 21, 2005

WM Wakes Up

In Tech Central Station, Ryan Sager has a quick review of who Wal-Mart is fighting against:

First, there is the labor movement.... Wal-Mart has taken over one-fifth of the nation's grocery market -- supermarkets being one of the last union strongholds outside of the government -- has brought the matter to a head. Partnering with local small businesses, the unions are exerting tremendous pressure on city governments to say no to Wal-Mart.

Aiding and abetting the unions in their fight against Wal-Mart are the various urban "experts," Starbucks-phobic grad-student types and other elitists who wouldn't be caught dead in a discount store....

Yes, there is more than a little bit of elitism and self-interest behind much of the opposition to Wal-Mart. That's not to say that there are no reasonable concerns to be had about the retail giant. It does change the character of the towns it enters. But change in the form of lower prices and more jobs is nothing to be afraid of -- especially in cities with no mythical Main Streets to lose in the first place.

Mr. Sager had a recent column about WM in The New York Post, which generated fascinating responses; he blogs at Miscellaneous Objections.

Posted by Kevin at 10:33 AM

January 19, 2005

Wal-Mart Needs a Blog

I agree with Rick Bruner, Wal-Mart needs a blog, not just full-page advertisements and a new web site.

Posted by Kevin at 9:31 AM

January 18, 2005

H. Lee Scott's Letter to Americans

The Box Tank has the full page H. Lee Scott advertisement in PDF format.

Posted by Kevin at 11:12 AM

January 13, 2005

WM on the Offensive

Can a corporation buy a better "image"? WM thinks so, and will be spending big-bucks to counter its opponents' media advantage:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's biggest retailer, launched a national advertising campaign Thursday in an effort to burnish an image that has been tarnished by claims about its hiring practices, stance toward labor unions and actions against smaller competitors.

The company is running a full-page advertisement in more than a hundred newspapers, touting the number of jobs it plans to create in 2005, its employee-benefit packages and the diversity of its workers. The company also has started a Web site to support its campaign.

The ad, which is running in newspapers such as USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, says the company plans to create 100,000 U.S. jobs in 2005 and that 74 percent of its hourly employees work full-time.

"For too long, others have had free rein to say things about our company that just aren't true," Chairman Lee Scott said in a statement. "We've decided it's time to draw our own line in the sand."

First, all I can say on the matter is, "It's about damn time."

Second, let me be clear about ALP's mission: We are interested in describing the actual role of WM in the economy. ALP is driven first by curiosity--not policy or ideology. WM does not fund this site! Neither do unions! Except for Google advertising revenue--a total of $38 as of this morning, I have received no money to blog about WM. Neither has anybody else at ALP. Granted, I am an advocate of the free-market, but my cobloggers and commenters are whatever they want to be.

Third, when I can get a copy of the ad, I'll scan it in and post...

Fourth, we find out in the press release that WM has started a new website called Wal-Mart Facts, which includes a photo gallery and a video gallery.

Posted by Kevin at 10:26 AM

December 30, 2004

Don Boudreaux on "Down and Out"

Don Boudreaux cites Bill Steigerwald in his smack-down of Liza Featherstone's latest (reported earlier here):

And because Wal-Mart indisputably keeps prices to consumers low, by far the most plausible conclusion is that Wal-Mart promotes the economic prosperity of the places it which it operates � it creates better jobs and increases the availability of goods and services. In short, Wal-Mart makes its workers and its customers (and, yes, its stockholders) wealthier.

But in the expos� in The Nation, Wal-Mart�s commitment to serving lower-income communities is treated as dastardly, sinister, almost Satanic. The author -- Liza Featherstone -- however, never explains why specializing in serving the needs of lower-income communities is suspect. Would lower-income people be better served if, instead of Wal-Mart, Nieman-Marcus and Tiffany�s open branches in rural and blue-collar regions of the country?

There are too many problems with this expos� of Wal-Mart to deal with here

That last sentiment was mine exactly upon reading Ms. Featherstone's article. Steigerwald gets the last laugh, though:
Unless it really is a clever put-on, Featherstone's desperate diatribe is the worst article I've ever read in The Nation, which, for reasons known only to my psychiatrist, I've been torturing myself with regularly for almost 15 years.

Posted by Kevin at 8:28 PM

November 9, 2004

Dispelling WM Myths

Karel Sovak asks, " what happens to the old Wal-Mart and other businesses once a Wal-Mart Supercenter comes to town?", and let's Tim Romback, manager of a WM in Minot, North Dakota, respond in full. His particular store is dominated by female managers:

The current structure is comprised of 114,000 square feet and was built in 1990. Rombach said that he also feels very strongly in defending the store against other

inaccurate information, especially regarding female employees.

"There has been a lot of speculation and lawsuits, but I know that Wal-Mart has dealt severely with those few who have made wrong decisions," Rombach said. "I hate to see the entire organization being mislabeled or all of the associates summed up in the negative because of the deeds of a few. Integrity is an important part of being associated with Wal-Mart or I wouldn't be with the company. Thirty-five percent of the employees who started with our store 14 years ago are still here. They love what they do and the company that they work for. To the question of why aren't there more female managers, I have to ask people to just look at our store. Ninety-four percent of the managers here, within all the departments, are female. All seven of our customer service managers are female. That hasn't happened just over the past couple of years, most of them have been here all 14 years."

Good stuff, whatever your opinion on WM.

Posted by Kevin at 10:30 AM

October 27, 2004

WM Politically Active in CA

Rent seeking is defined as the use of resources to defend one's "rents" (or profits above the norm). Here, WM is using resources to defend the right of free contract:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - After years of waging its political wars almost exclusively on the local level, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is spending aggressively this election in support of favored statewide candidates and ballot measures - including donations to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state Republican Party.

The world's largest corporation, which once had a tradition of trying to stay out of politics, has given more than $2.4 million on California races so far this year - well beyond any previous sum the company has spent here in one year.

And Tuesday, the Bentonville, Ark.-based company announced it would donate an additional $500,000 to the opponents of Proposition 72, a measure that will require employers to provide basic health insurance to workers.

Wal-Mart representatives said the escalation

Wal-Mart is not alone:
More than $12.8 million has been raised from opponents of the law, including McDonald's Corp. and Target Corp.

"If it happens in California, it rolls eastward and that will have damaging effects nationwide," said Jot Condie, vice president of the California Restaurant Association, a Sacramento trade group that has given more than $3 million.

That slippery slope...

Posted by Kevin at 7:11 AM

September 9, 2004

WM Tries to Boost Image

Neil Buckely notes that WM wants your love:

Wal-Mart vowed to go on the offensive to protect its reputation from critics of its business and labour practices, and said growing opposition would not slow its growth.

Lee Scott, Wal-Mart's chief executive, told a Goldman Sachs retail conference in New York that the world's largest company was engaged in an �outreach programme� to get its story across.

The company has faced growing publicity over the past year over its poor pay and benefits for workers [compared to what?--ed.]. It has also met increased opposition to new stores - often organised by labour unions - particularly as it expands into urban areas.

They haven't reached out to me. Also, all you economic pessimists should note:
He added Wal-Mart had not changed its optimistic outlook for the Christmas shopping season in spite of weaker-than-expected August sales.

Posted by Kevin at 10:12 AM