Businessweek reviews Wal-Mart's public relations strategy focused on its community, environment and disaster relief efforts. "Can Wal-Mart Wear a White Hat?" is an interesting view behind this massive image turnaround.
In August, seven media-savvy professionals from Edelman, a Chicago public relations firm, flew to Bentonville, Ark., for an unusual assignment. Although they remain on Edelman's payroll, the PR experts, some of them seasoned veterans of political campaigns, now run a new office deep in the headquarters of Wal-Mart Stores
Dubbed "Action Alley," the office -- as well as a similar one in Washington, D.C. -- acts as the nerve center of the world's largest retailer's campaign to soften its public face. Backed by Wal-Mart's own publicity staff, the team responds within hours to any new blast of criticism.
The ability to respond so quickly to criticism tells us that they are tracking the blogosphere. Wal-Mart already has its own blog, Wal-Mart Facts. Edelman practices what it preaches with Richard’s blog, a raft of white papers and a blog research survey underway. So blog tracking is more than likely a crucial part of this response network.
The troops also try to spin positive stories about the corporate giant. As they sat facing one another around three tables arranged in a U shape one day in mid-September, Hurricane Katrina was still high on the agenda. Action Alley had scored a bull's-eye after just weeks on the job when it garnered widespread national publicity about Wal-Mart's efficient relief efforts following New Orleans' devastation.
Now, in addition to Action Alley, Wal-Mart has opened eight community-relations offices nationwide to answer local criticism. It also has approached two environmental groups and will soon announce a major initiative to curb waste by reducing packaging.
In the meantime, Wal-Mart is already focused on Hurricane Rita. Be sure to check out this article. It shows how blogs can help elevate issues quickly to gain widespread attention. In addition to ramping up quickly, all of the content is being catalogued in search engines for the long-term benefits. Wal-Mart should also be buying negative keywords. They can push folks searching on these terms to their blog. It would complement the strategy nicely.