Walmart re-engages on reputation front

A new ad campaign that seeks to show "the real Walmart" from the perspective of customers, employees and suppliers is sure to ignite renewed debate over the company’s impact.

The intent of the campaign which launched over the weekend is to show "the real Walmart," with a focus on how Walmart helps customers and associates succeed and how low prices are delivered by efficiencies generated from manufacturer relationships. From Walmart’s perspective it has a pretty good story to tell in terms of its economic impact, supplier relations, charitable giving, advancements in the areas of sustainability, diversity, compliance and employee benefits relative to the retail industry.

"We have wanted to do this for a long time because we know that people trust Walmart even more when they understand the opportunities we provide our associates, who the customers are that shop with us and how we deliver low prices," said Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart U.S. "Every month more than 60% of Americans shop at Walmart and we are proud to help them save money on what they want and need to build better lives for themselves and their families."

Long time critics of the company are sure to feel differently and ironically, even though Walmart has made advancements in many areas, the company becomes an easier target for foes as it grows and global operations become increasingly complex. As a result, opportunities for things to go wrong increase and it becomes easier to find suppliers who may have felt slighted by business dealings or disgruntled former and current employees among a base of more than two million.

The new campaign is reminiscent of an effort undertaken in 2005 when Walmart was under withering attack from organized labor, class actions lawsuits and senior leadership was in the midst of a transition following the dismissal of former COO Tom Coughlin on theft related charges.

At the time, Walmart felt it needed to do a better job of telling its own story rather than allowing critics to define it. The company took out full page ads in 100 newspapers in which featured an open letter from former president and CEO Lee Scott. The initiative marked a major turning point in Walmart’s approach to reputation management and Scott was forced to spend more time that he would have liked on matters unrelated to operating the business. In the years since the company has steadily pursued major initiatives in areas where it had previously been susceptible to criticism and artfully aligned itself with causes supported by a Democratic administration that once vilified the company.

The belief now, as is 2005, was summed up by Simon.

"The more we introduce people to what we do and how we do it, the more they understand the positive difference we can make for customers, associates and communities."