As part of its public relations offensive, Wal-Mart has taken to the blogwaves. They are encouraging bloggers sympathetic to their cause to publish positive news about the ubiquitous company. According to an article by Michael Barbaro in today's New York Times, the bloggers are using the tidbits, but not necessarily identifying the source.
Here's a sample: One blogger in Iowa wrote that a new Wal-Mart opening in Illinois had received 25,000 applications for 325 jobs. "That's a 1.3 acceptance rate," the message read. "Consider this: Harvard University (undergraduate) accepts 11 percent of applicants." Insider readers can probably figure out the difference between applying to Harvard and applying for a job at Wal-Mart, but as they say, the numbers speak for themselves. My guess is that any new jobs in a depressed area will generate a lot of interest. But the original source of the unusual comparison is not the blogger, but Wal-Mart itself.
According to Wal-Mart's Mona Williams, this is "part of our overall effort to tell our story. As more and more Americans go to the Internet to get information from varied, credible, trusted sources, Wal-Mart is committed to participating in that online conversation."
As one who tries to represent a "varied, credible and trusted source," I beg to disagree with Mona. There is a significant difference between setting up your own blog and ghost-writing your way into the blogs of others. Even in the wide open frontiers of blogging, there is a strong notion of integrity. Wal-Mart "participates" in the conversation in the same way they "provide jobs in local communities": on their terms, using their own value system, and with zero consideration for the local businesses they are nudging toward oblivion.
The author of Wal-Mart's "blog feeds" is someone named Marshall Manson (no relation, no relation?), a senior account supervisor at the Edelman pubic relations firm, a contractor to Wal-Mart. Manson writes for a number of conservative Web sites trying to limit the role of government. Obviously, Manson - and many others - are alarmed by state initiatives to force Wal-Mart into higher levels of health insurance coverage for its many employees. These bloggers are more than willing to use the Wal-Mart feeds, some with attribution, others without.
Wal-Mart has invited a number of bloggers to attend a media conference in Bentonville, Arkansas. Alas, they are not footing the bill for the trip. I would point out to the behemoth retailer that the Insider has consistently covered Wal-Mart news: we are fascinated by their locking in (illegal immigrant) cleaning crews, targeting loyal employees for termination, forcing employees onto public assistance to survive, and telling managers with differing views to find another job. We're doing our part to "tell Wal-Mart's story." Nonetheless, I am still waiting for my invitation to Bentonville.