We shopped in Walmart last week. An older employee tried to help us find an item. After meeting him and checking out, we discussed that despite Walmart’s critics, the company is a place some senior citizens find work. And almost everything we purchased cost less than at our regular grocery stores. At that moment, I recalled a former co-worker, a TV producer, who did not approve of me shopping at Walmart no matter how much money I explained I saved.
The day after our Walmart visit, The New York Times published an article with the headline “Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart After Top-Level Struggle.” A sub-headline read “Confronted with evidence of widespread corruption in Mexico, top Wal-Mart executives focused more on damage control than on rooting out wrongdoing, an examination by The New York Times found.” The article includes interviews and documentation accusing Walmart de Mexico of paying bribes to obtain construction permits.
The Times says it:
- Conducted hours of interviews
- Reviewed thousands of government documents
- Read internal notes, emails and reports
The New York Times attributes more than 20 quotes to a Walmart spokesperson. One is “We are deeply concerned by these allegations and are working aggressively to determine what happened.” Some of the spokesperson’s statements are specific to this case. Other quotes remind me of similar statements I would receive from agencies or companies when I was an investigative reporter.
As of Wednesday morning, more than 900 people left comments under the article. Some comments slammed Walmart. Others pointed out Walmart is creating jobs and selling products for less.
The article inspired Reuters to write separate articles on the future of Walmart executives, bribes in general in Mexico and how hedge-fund managers might react to the allegations. Reuters also reports two congressmen sent letters to Walmart, requesting a meeting. A blog from The Wall Street Journal compared the allegations to past cases.
What we liked about Walmart’s media relations:
- A company spokesperson communicated with The New York Times. You may not give the company credit for this, but some companies, to our amazement, still offer no response whatsoever to journalists.
- In its website’s “Press Room,” the company included a statement responding to The New York Times article. http://www.walmartstores.com/pressroom/news/10879.aspx Some companies never mention controversies in their pressrooms.
- The Press Room included an updated statement three days later, discussing action the company is taking.
- The company allows readers to download the statements in English and Spanish.
- Walmart posted YouTube videos with a spokesperson’s response.
- The videos are a good length. They are not too long to discourage viewers from watching. They are long enough to make the company’s key points.
- As of Wednesday morning, the first YouTube video included more than 8000 views. Tell your subscribers your side of the story. Make them your advocates.
- On Twitter, A Tweet “promoted” by Walmart stated “RE: The NYT Article, we’re deeply concerned by the allegations and are working aggressively to determine what happened.”
What we didn’t like:
- Most of the videos simply repeat the adjoining statements. The videos serve a purpose for people who will not read the statements. But simply reading much of the statement on video can be counterproductive to relaying a heartfelt concern about the allegations.
- I’d prefer the videos showcase a different Walmart executive than its spokesperson. That would have added more credibility to the videos.
- In the YouTube videos, I would not leave the spokesperson on camera the entire time. I would cover some of the video with images of Walmart and its employees. These images would help re-enforce some of the positive messages the company is trying to relay about its efforts and point-of-view.
- On Walmart’s Facebook page, a New Jersey man posted a link to the article. The man’s comment began “Stay awesome, Walmart” and went on to call The New York Times copy editor stubborn for including a hyphen in “Wal-mart.” Under a post about healthy-looking skin, Walmart addressed someone’s comment by writing: “We are deeply concerned by these allegations and are working aggressively to determine what happened. We have shared a video and our statement here:” However, we’d like to see Walmart address the situation more prominently on Facebook. Most of Walmart’s Facebook Fans likely support their stores. The followers might be the company’s best brand ambassadors.
- Walmart’s spokesperson points out the allegations are more than six years old. I don’t find this technique very effective. To me, people still seem interested in allegations decades old if those allegations strike a chord. Any company could argue its culture and executives have changed, but these details and nuances don’t seem to impact impressions.
- Here is one of the spokesperson’s comments: “The investigation is ongoing and we don’t have a full explanation of what happened. It would be inappropriate for us to comment further on the specific allegations until we have finished the investigation.” As a broadcast journalist, I heard a variation of this statement as often as any other. While the statement may be true to some extent, my impression is this is typically a PR pro’s favorite line to prevent giving out more details if any at all. You can always deliver this statement to a specific question, but my opinion is delivering these words in a generic sense simply generates cynicism among the journalists and customers following the story.
Tags: AZ, broadcast journalist, crisis communications, damage control, investigative reporter, journalists, media, Media Relations, Mexico, news, PR, PR pro, PR pros, press, reporter, reuters, spokesperson, The New York Times, tv producer, video, walmart, walmart executives, YouTube