Wal-Mart and Target dominate the discount chain market in America – how do they approach Public Relations?
Proactive Versus Reactive Strategies
Wal-Mart spends a lot of PR resources on crisis management – Every year, workers and activists stage protests against the company, and run ads that tarnish the brand’s image. Most of the ads attack Wal-Mart for poor treatment of workers; involving low wages and long hours without proper breaks. Each year, Wal-Mart waits until the crisis hits to fight back through social media and other forums. It doesn’t appear they are often proactive on these issues.
Target, on the other hand, pays better – and doesn’t attract such issues.
Despite making less than 15% of Wal-Mart’s revenue in 2014, Target paid employees only 80 cents lower than Wal-Mart. For this reason, the company received many praises and awards for creating a great working environment for employees.
This year, Diversity Inc. ranked Target at number 25 on its list of Top 50 Companies for Diversity. The National Association for Female Executives also named Target as one of the Top 50 Companies for Executive Women for 2015. And for 2016, The Human Rights Campaign already gave Target 100% for corporate equality and called it one of the best places to work for the LGBT community.
Target not only values workers, but also takes it a step further and extends that to customers. In fact, the word ‘customer’ does not exist at Target. The company instead refers to customers as ‘guests’. This slight name change shows their appreciation for patrons.
Quality Versus Quantity
Wal-Mart uses is big spending – Business Insider reports that in 2014, Wal-Mart spent $2.4 billion dollars on ads, while Target spent only $1.6 billion. Ironically, however, Target’s smaller budget on advertising still created better results for their public image and engagement with consumers.
How so? Business Insider reports that during that year, Wal-Mart had only 695,000 followers on Twitter, while Target attracted with 1.7 million. Likewise, Wal-Mart only received 2.71 million mentions on Google News, while Target received 48 million. This gap proves that while Wal-Mart focused on quantity of content to build its image, Target focused more on quality and effective techniques.
Despite their differences, however, one thing the two companies share is the use of mostly in-house PR expertise. Both companies run newsrooms and manage their own press releases on their websites. Additionally, both run a powerhouse PR team that does most of the work on-site.
Sill, successful companies know their limitations, and so both companies work with outside PR firms on occasion. Wal-Mart tends to work with PR giants like Edelman and Ketchum. These firms help to create a ‘greener’ image of Wal-Mart as it relates to the environment.
Wal-Mart also partners with smaller agencies like Martin Agency and Riney to create catchy campaigns. In the past, the company also worked with high-stakes PR firm, Mercury Public Affairs, to assist with crisis management and marketing intelligence.
Target uses less external PR help, but partners with New York based Kaplow PR on occasion. The firm assists Target with Back to School campaigns for children and college students. In the past, Target also worked with Fleishman Hillard in a bid to appeal to the African-American market.
Despite their varying approaches to public relations, both Target and Wal-Mart continue to achieve major commercial success.