Walmart, Red Ink, and Corporate Communications

There has been no shortage of articles and online posts firing accusations of mistreatment and foul play by giant corporate retailer Walmart. The company has dealt with everything from statements claiming that their employees are underpaid and living in poverty to claims that they do not pay their fare share of taxes. Situations like these where companies must protect themselves while appearing forthcoming and transparent to the public can be hard to balance. Especially when the accusations tend to come faster than the communications professionals can respond.

One such article entitled “The Corporate Daddy” written by New York Times writer Timothy Egan blasted the Walmart brand for all of the aforementioned and then some. Rather than let this one slip through the cracks, Walmart decided to respond back in an incredibly direct and slightly comical fashion.

Vice President of Communications for Walmart, David Tovar, responded to the writer by providing his edits and fact checks to the article, which he submitted in red ink. His edits included links to articles which discredited Egan’s statements and backed the multi-billion dollar brand. The full article, with Tovar’s edits can be viewed on the Walmart blog.

What’s good about it –
Though many have thoughts on the way that Walmart opted to respond, the fact that they did respond directly to Egan’s claims is a good thing. The issue, many times, with corporate communications is finding the balance between the human needs of consumers and the realities of the corporate world. The handwritten edits in red ink add a personal element to the the response. It’s not a stuffy press release or a strategically and overly formalized social media post. It is simply one person, disagreeing with another person in the most human way that the internet allows.

What they could have don better –
While the response can be appreciated for all that it does well and aims to achieve, the fact still exists that the Walmart brand is perceived by many in a certain way, and one handcrafted response isn’t going to change that image overnight. The coy and comedic response from Tovar could be perceived as the company downplaying the issues and facts that numerous people have claimed and proven to be huge issues for the brand. While Tovar did provide articles to back up his assertions, it is important to note that though the response may have been aimed at Tovar, it really had a much wider audience. Every corporate analyst and conscious consumer is also looking at Walmart with a watchful eye.

Moving Foward –
Walmart, keep responding! If the claims made against you are indeed false, then the evidence will more than speak for itself. Promote that evidence. Use your platform, voice, name and influence to showcase the good that you do, and help us realize what your brand is truly about. I’m calling for more transparency, more real content, a greater human touch to warm audiences up to the issue. As previously stated, Walmart’s image may not change overnight, but with the right communications strategy, change is possible.

What do you think about the Walmart response? What advice do you have for the brand moving forward?

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