BENTONVILLE, AK—Wal-Mart was named America’s Most Admired Corporation by Fortune magazine earlier this year, but the company has some serious concerns about its image, and is embarking on a new corporate advertising campaign designed to correct what it sees as misperceptions about the nature of the jobs it creates.
According to a report in The New York Times, Wal-Mart commissioned its longtime lead public relations agency, Fleishman-Hillard, to conduct reputation research using polls, focus groups, and phone interviews and the tapped Austin-based ad agency GSD&M (like FH, a part of Omnicom) to create three new television ads.
FH examined the company’s relationships with consumers, employees, bankers, suppliers and community leaders, and found that many people view Wal-Mart as a place of dead-end jobs, and that its performance as a corporate citizen leaves much to be desired.
“They didn’t see us as involved in the community as they might like,” Wal-Mart’s senior vice president of corporate affairs, Jay Allen, told the Times. “They didn’t give us good marks on listening. Sometimes it was as basic as the parking lot was not clean, and that’s not treating the community with respect.”
In 2002, an Oregon jury determined that Wal-Mart forced employees to work unpaid overtime between 1994 and 1999, and the company is also facing a New York suit, filed in 2001, claiming it systematically avoided paying employees their full-earned wages. The suit alleges that Wal-Mart keeps employees locked in stores after closing and requires they remain there even after clocking out. Yet another suit accuses the company of discriminating against female employees.
But Allen says the reputation research was unrelated to the suits.
Two of the ads feature women who work at Wal-Mart discussing their job satisfaction. “They give you opportunity to advance,” says a black department manager. A white mother of two who is a district manager says, “It’s not easy to have a career and a family, but my job makes it a lot easier to do both.”