Wal-Mart woes continue
Now, another senior executive of Wal-Mart has resigned following protests against her nomination to a gay business group, ironically as a nominee from her company. The division that employed her has also been the respondent in a law suit on counterfeiting. Dee Breazeale managed luxury goods at Sam's Clubs when the chain was slapped with a suit in June by a French company, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, alleging that counterfeits of its luxury Fendi brand bags and wallets were being sold through the store.
In August, Breazeale was nominated by Wal-Mart to the Advisory Council of National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, provoking protests from conservative groups - again a large customer base of the retail giant.
In the meantime, a pan-America trip for an average American couple to visit and interview employees and customers of Wal-Mart and blog about their experiences was denounced by the blogging community as a "fake" - after it emerged that the 'couple' was actually sponsored by Working Families for Wal-Mart, an advocacy group of the retail giant.
The activity looked like a good idea, until the two bloggers were identified as Jim Tresher, a veteran Washington Post photographer, and his girlfriend Laura. Their travel and other expense were paid for by the advocacy group. Since the controversy erupted, the journalists have been asked to refund the expenses and also pull off the photographs.
Two issues that I would like to discuss here:
1) What does this mean for Wal-Mart?
It means that Wal-Mart is going through a crisis of communication. There is a definite sense of desperation within the organization to promote a positive image - however, old habits die hard. So the chain stumbles from one controversy to another - either due to its past actions or due to the some hasty reactionary activities that don't measure up on the ethical front. Wal-Mart, and its supporting groups, need to understand that being ethical will help in the long run. And Wal-Mart is a long term player..
Will these controversies make Wal-Mart lose business - maybe not immediately. But as negative publicity keeps pouring in, the public's mindset will also change. Think of it like an election campaign - you need to have a sustained series of subcampaigns to promote your candidate and build public opinion. Once the messaging crosses a threshold, then word-of-mouth takes over and results in victory for the candidate.
Wal-Mart needs to look at the scenario as a campaign - and the threshold is approaching.....
2) What does it mean for the blogging community?
The biggest difference between a blog and a media is the factor of independence that the blog enjoys. As a result, the general tone and manner of blogs are negative in nature - since all of us are cynical by nature.
However, Corporate blogging (I believe this episode is a perfect example) is great way of promoting a company, without focusing on the negatives. And as a practice, it will continue. The difference in approach should lay in transparency.
The blogger should identify the blog with a corporate cause in no uncertain terms. That way, if nothing else, the blog never gets caught on the wrong foot. And, many a time, the blogs viewpoint will also be understood by the readers.