Friday, June 02, 2006

What in Hell is Wal-Mart Afraid Of???

Here's a picture of a billboard that went up at 1111 Sam Walton Blvd. in Bentonville, AR. By afternoon, it came down. Here is an email I received from this afternoon.

Dear friends,

Last week, with the help of tens of thousands of supporters across the country, Wal-Mart Watch extended a hand to Wal-Mart's management and the Walton family. In a seven-point statement of shared principles, we offered to partner with Wal-Mart to help make America's largest company a true model for responsible business in the 21st century.

To reinforce our offer, we contracted with Whistler Outdoor Advertising to post a billboard near Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. The billboard went up yesterday morning, just in time to greet visitors to Wal-Mart's Annual Shareholders Meeting being held today.

The billboard's message? -- a thoughtful, forward-looking quote from company founder Sam Walton:

"Maybe the most important way in which we at Wal-Mart believe in giving something back is through our commitment to using the power of this enormous enterprise as a force for change."

Yesterday afternoon, just hours after completing the billboard's installation at 1111 Sam Walton Boulevard, Whistler tore down our message. Company management has since told reporters that it was "duped" by Wal-Mart Watch. In reality, Whistler received our signed contract, payment, and artwork on May 25, 2006 and proceeded with the installation on schedule.

Whistler's management most certainly spent the day resisting withering pressure from Wal-Mart before finally giving in. While we hope that they will reconsider their action, we will accept our full refund and contribute that amount to the Bentonville Public Library.

So, while the first amendment doesn't seem to apply in the company town of Bentonville, our proposal to Wal-Mart still stands. Billboard or not, our hand is still extended. Is yours?

Please urge your friends to sign-on to our "Handshake with Sam" today.

Thanks for all you do,

Andrew Grossman
Executive Director

Wal-Mart is probably thinking "We don't need no stinkin handshake".

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Sandpit Rezoning

An article in todays Adirondack Daily Enterprise concerning the number of letters being received at the Village offices concerning the sandpit rezoning process. Thus far 200 letters have been received by the Village Clerk.

“This is the biggest volume of letters I’ve ever gotten,” said Village Clerk Kareen Tyler, who estimated that she spent more than half an hour per day this month dealing with the influx.

The article goes on to point out that about have of the letters received thus far are opposed to the rezoning of sandpit site. Interestingly, these letters are not form letters but rather individual original letters. About 80 of the letters are in favor of rezoning the sandpit area. These letters are form letters. Those supporting the rezoning effort must be too busy to write their own letters.

A little more than half the letters were against continuing the rezoning process at this time. The majority of letters expressing this point were original. About 80 letters in favor of the rezone were the same letter with different signatures. This form letter never mentioned Wal-Mart, only that the parcel be rezoned for commercial use.

One major topic of discussion is whether the fact that Wal-Mart is interested in the property should be of concern when deciding whether to rezone or not.

One of the letters to garner the most attention from village officials was from retired attorney Peter Crary, who said he has 28 years of experience as an attorney including working in the environmental bureau of the state Attorney General’s Office. Crary, who is a neighbor to the sand pit, cautioned that the village shouldn’t overlook its SEQR Act obligations at this stage. He said the SEQR should address Wal-Mart because it made its intentions known about wanting to build on the property.

There are also two Letters (here and here) to the Editor concerning the rezoning issue, both opposed to rezoning.

Do Richard Edelman's Ethics Apply to His Wal-Mart Client?

Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman, the largest independent public relations firm in the world has his own blog. Wal-Mart is one of Edelman PR's clients. Mr. Edelman's March 30th post is pretty interesting. He appears to have pretty high moral and ethical standards for his company (short of hiring Krempasky who thinks Rep. John Murtha is not a patriot; we have got to stop conservatives from smearing decorated veterans).

Here are a few things Mr. Edelman has to say about PR companies (hopefully not taken too much out of context, but you can check that for yourself by clicking on his blog link).

How serious is it for PR that the man who runs the foremost center for press and public policy in the US is fundamentally skeptical about our profession? is time for us to recognize that with our enhanced opportunity comes a very real responsibility.

Tell both sides of every story. We can be more credible by listing the side effects along with the demonstrable benefits.

Empower employees to shape the company image.

Total transparency as to the motive and the funding source.

We need to improve the practice of public relations.

ProPr had a few comments about Edelman PR and transparency.
That’s where Wal-Mart came up short. They used their PR firm’s bloggers and the credibility those bloggers had built up to speak directly to other bloggers. But for the rest of us, people outside of their carefully targeted direct blogger pitch, we could not see what the company was up to. The fact that their activity was discovered resulted from the slipshod practices of a few bloggers who quoted verbatim from the material Edelman/Wal-Mart provided to them, without attribution.

So, true transparency was not achieved. And the resultant uproar should prove a cautionary tale for all.

So do PR firms have the obligation to tell both sides of a story when representing a client? Should PR firms encourage the client it represents (Wal-Mart) to talk about side effects? Should there really be total transparency when representing a client? Should Wal-Mart employee's be empowered to shape the company image?

Maybe I'm just confused about what Mr. Edelman is trying to say.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Talking to the Wal

Talking to the Wal is a movie by Steve Alves. It concerns two small towns, Greenfield, MA (18,000), whose residents prevented a Wal-Mart incursion by stopping a rezoning effort (read more here pdf) and little Orange, MA (7,500) whose residents welcomed Wal-Mart to town in hopes of revitalizing the town.

"Today's Orange is praised for the character, intelligence and thrift of its citizens and for its lack of "rowdyism." It has all the elements that make a small town livable, including good schools, churches (10 of them), library, fire department, water supply, fraternal organizations, and banking facilities. It also has a Wal-Mart, which provides cheap goods at the expense of a thriving downtown".

(from here)

Any hope that the downtown could be revitalized due to a Wal-Mart store's presence has since been abondoned.

Read the NYT review of the film here.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Good Suggestion By Gloria

Suggested in the comments in the below post:

"Folks who do not want a WM - especially the 121,000 proposed WM (which is the
photo) - should send that Postcard marked 'NO, I DO NOT SUPPORT A WM COMING TO
SL' to the Village Board at:

Saranac Lake Village Board
3 Main Street
Saranac Lake, NY 12983

We are afraid sending them back to WM
may be wasteful on our efforts. WM really does not care about our community. We
believe it will make no difference to WM but it may make a difference to our
Village Officials."