SHANGHAI--Walmart China has brought in external PR counsel as the world’s largest retailer continues to tackle some thorny reputation issues in the country.
The company has called on MSLGroup to handle corporate PR in China, along with projects elsewhere in Asia. The firm has been working on the assignment since earlier this year.
Walmart Asia corporate affairs VP Anthony Rose confirmed that the agency is handling a "broad brief" for the retailer.
"I believe MSL's strengths lie in their strategic thinking, extensive media network, strong execution support," said Rose. "To date I have been impressed with their servicing of our needs."
Rose added that Walmart had previously used other agencies on a short-term basis.
Walmart China CEO Ed Chan departed the company in late 2011, along with another of the company’s senior executives, although the company claimed that the moves were unrelated to a “pork scandal” in Chongqing that saw store closures and some employees detained. The company came under heightened scrutiny from Chinese authorities last year, receiving fines for selling expired goods, and deceptive pricing.
The company has since named ex-Woolworths veteran Greg Foran to head China.
Earlier in 2011, Walmart lost its chief financial officer and chief operating officer in a market that is of considerable importance to its global expansion plans. According to Euromonitor, China’s hypermarket industry is growing at around 10 percent per year, although intense price competition is pressuring profitability.
The retailer’s China presence saw particular expansion once it took a minority stake in Taiwan hypermarket chain Trust-Mart in 2007. Walmart now ranks second in the country, behind domestic player Sun Art, and competes with a number of foreign retailers that are aiming to crack China’s hypermarket sector, including Tesco, Carrefour and Metro AG.
Walmart is currently embroiled in a corruption scandal in Mexico. One US agency source familiar with the company said the crisis would "heighten scrutiny" of all of its emerging markets operations. China is also an important market for Walmart’s sustainability initiatives, which, while attracting some criticism, are generally viewed as a force for positive change.