BENTONVILLE, AK--Walmart has reshaped its multimillion dollar consumer PR mandate in favour of GolinHarris following a review that sees key incumbent Cohn & Wolfe lose its grip on the company's US business.
The Holmes Report can reveal that the consolidation of one of the world's largest consumer PR mandates began at the start of this year. It sees the retail giant dispense with the roster approach that it established in 2009, when it named three PR firms to oversee consumer PR: GolinHarris, Cohn & Wolfe and Porter-Novelli.
Of the trio, Cohn & Wolfe has benefited most over the past four years, growing its business with the client to a substantial level of fee income, estimated at upwards of $5m.
The WPP firm has retained some aspects of Walmart business, including the Walmart Foundation and Sam's Club accounts.
"Cohn and Wolfe helped us successfully communicate a number of Walmart US programs to our customers over the years and they will continue to support areas outside of the Walmart US business, including Sam’s Club PR efforts," said Walmart senior director of corporate communications Deisha Barnett.
GolinHarris now takes charge of the business, after previously focusing on multicultural and youth marketing. Walmart's consumer PR offering includes such areas as food, nutrition, apparel and consumer electronics, along with a broader focus on brand-building, lifestyle marketing and product launches.
Barnett noted that Golin will work alongside Mitchell Communications, the Arkansas agency that also supports Walmart's PR efforts.
"We recently consolidated the number of agencies supporting our Walmart US merchandise and brand public relations efforts," said Barnett. "We will continue to work with Mitchell Communications and are excited to partner more closely with GolinHarris this year."
One source familiar with the situation said that Walmart was "intrigued" with Golin's G4 agency model, after a review that focused on financials and staffing. GolinHarris global CEO Fred Cook told the Holmes Report that "our work with Walmart continues to expand," but referred other queries to the client.
Despite a wave of negative publicity, including a high-profile bribery scandal, Walmart's domestic consumer appeal remains strong. The company has reverted to a stronger focus on its low-price heritage, and has expanded its social media marketing, particularly via Facebook, to good effect.
Edelman continues to support Walmart's corporate and public affairs work, a relationship that has remained in place for more than six years.
Walmart reported slowing topline growth last month, with US store sales changing little in its most recent quarter, thanks in part to the recent payroll tax increase. Fourth-quarter earnings rose to $5.6bn, spurred by tax credits that lowered the company's corporate tax rate.
For the fiscal year ending January 2013, Walmart increased net sales by five percent to $466.1bn, retaining its status as the world's largest retailer.
Cohn & Wolfe global CEO Donna Imperato declined to comment on the development, other than to say: "Walmart is a significant and very important client for us."