BENTONVILLE, AR—Gus Whitcomb, who joined retail giant Wal-Mart last year as director for issues and litigation communications, is leaving the Arkansas headquarters to become regional corporate affairs director in Dallas. The move is part of an initiative to place senior communications professionals in the regions where Wal-Mart has major operations, and came as the company launched a charm offensive to improve its media image.
Whitcomb joined Wal-Mart from American Airlines, and according to vice president of corporate communications Mona Williams was to be responsible for “message development, and ensuring Wal-Mart’s voice is heard in press coverage of our ongoing, high-profile issues, many of which relate to employment.”
Previously, Whitcomb was managing director in charge of international, alliance, and crisis communications at American Airlines and had worked on the agency side of the business, with technology PR specialist Neale-May & Partners.
Williams and other senior PR executives helped plan a meeting for more than 50 journalists, who met with chief executive H. Lee Scott last week. Scott and other top Wal-Mart executives fielded unscreened questions from reporters and discussed initiatives to improve the image of the company, which has been criticized for its labor practices and its impact on local communities.
Tom Schoewe, the company’s CFO, admitted that “headline risk” has impacted the stock price, along with concerns by Wall Street that same-store growth is slowing and expenses are rising faster than sales.