Walmart, Wages, and the War for Public Perception

walmart pr strategy

The larger you are, the more public you serve. The more public you serve, the more vital your PR presence. Given that dynamic, Ronn Torossian says it’s no wonder Walmart’s PR team is overtaxed 24-7. But even for a company always in the crosshairs of public debate, holiday shopping season presents a greater opportunity for PR gain – for both the brand and its detractors.

Because of this, a new holiday tradition has been established. And we’re not talking about Black Friday stampedes. In recent years, on the busiest shopping day of the entire year, retail workers and minimum wage activists stage massive protests against the nation’s largest retailer.

Will Walmart’s PR Strategy and Campaign sway the public to view the company in a positive light?

The workers – and the union backing them – want higher wages, more full time work and increased respect. They smartly chose the time and place where the media will already be to make their point. This virtually guarantees them some TV time and news ink.

Walmart has fired back fairly dismissively. The company characterizes protesters as attention seekers who don’t represent the vast majority of Walmart’s 1.3-million strong workforce. They offer opportunity that these workers simply have not taken advantage of. Do they have low-paying jobs and part time jobs and work most folks would not be happy doing forever?

Sure, but, according to Walmart, that’s not the intended end-all. According to a recent commercial series, probably released in the run up to Black Friday for a reason, Walmart paints the company as a rich opportunity for workers.

Who you believe largely depends on where you’re standing. If you feel trapped in your current position – be it a job, social situation or something similar – you probably identify heavily with the protesters. However, if you once had a minimum wage gig and either moved up or moved on, you probably want the protesters to stop whining and get to work.

Still, neither perspective has much to say about how difficult it is to get by on low wages, particularly if you want to work more but, for whatever reason, cannot. Critics say the country has raised minimum wages in the past, but sides are divided on whether or not that even matters. Workers making at, or near minimum wage want it raised. Walmart and other retailers want workers to stick around for eventual raises.

However, with the government unlikely to weigh in any time soon, the battle is being waged on the field of public opinion. Both sides have drawn lines in the sand, but they need to do more to engage and positively influence both voters and consumers if they want lasting change.

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