More than one source close to the nation's largest retailer said that Wal-Mart has solicited the services of two public relations agencies, one with political ties in Washington D.C., to help reverse what it feels is a wave of bashing against its usually squeaky-clean image and to strengthen its voice in Washington.
Sources say that Wal-Mart picked St. Louis-based Fleishman-Hillard to handle its general market pr, and politically-wired pr firm National Grass Roots & Communications (NGRC) to handle issues dealing with Capitol Hill.
A spokesperson confirmed the company is working with both firms. It is not clear to what extent either would be involved in marketing activities. Wal-Mart uses Bernstein-Rein, Kansas City, and GSD&M, Austin, Texas, for its image advertising.
Wal-Mart has used Fleishman-Hillard for projects in the past.
The move to hire a pr firm comes in the wake of harsh allegations during a Dateline: NBC program late last year that charged, among other things, that the company was falsifying its successful Buy America program in a number of its stores by selling merchandise made outside the U.S. The program also charged Wal-Mart with buying merchandise from 'sweat shops' in Bangladesh that illegally employ children.
Its competitors have joined the bashing bandwagon as well. Late last month, Dayton Hudson's Target Stores took out newspaper ads in several markets charging the company was listing incorrect prices for Target products in comparitive ads. The ads, which were launched on the anniversary of owner Sam Walton's death, ran with the headline, 'This never would have happened if Sam Walton was alive.'
'You have to remember that this is a company that is not used to negative publicity,' said one source close to the retailer. 'They really weren't prepared for a crisis, and they've had a couple of them.'
'All of us, regardless of who we are, could stand to have our image boosted,' a Wal-Mart spokesperson said. 'I wouldn't discount the Dateline program (as one of the reasons).'
The spokesperson said the Washington-based firm will work with Wal-Mart on legislative issues now being discussed in the industry. One is issue on the table now is the striker replacement bill. 'There is a side of that story that isn't being told,' the spokesperson said. 'There's a lot going on at the Hill right now.'
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)