No one I’ve ever met is neutral on Wal*Mart. Let me begin by saying that Sam Walton is one of my heroes. He was a humble genius who as a multigazillionaire still rode to work every day in his pickup truck and frequently took his dog with him.
I don’t go to Wal*Mart. I like to buy American where I can and in Wal*Mart I can’t. I’d rather go see my friend Dan Sorrentino at Newtown Hardware for my sundries than some guy I don’t know that I have to walk the length of a football field to find. But I know a lot of people who visit Wal*Mart on a regular basis. FYI, Wal*Mart has an affiliate program through LinkShare that is okay. Wal*Mart also has a blog, called Wal*Mart Facts.
Since it is the largest retail outfit in the world, Wal*Mart has a pretty big target painted on its back. It’s always taking a beating for its employment practices or lack of this or corporate that. Being a PR person for Wal*Mart must be pretty tough. According to the Strategic Public Relations Blog, Wal*Mart is trying to soften its public face. To this end it has hired the venerable public relations firm Edelman in Chicago.
According to the Modern Marketing blog, Edelman and Wal*Mart set up a program they call Action Alley. Action Alley was set up to practice what Modern Marketing calls Outside In marketing:
Traditional marketing has been built around the idea of creating a central set of messages and sending them out into the marketplace.
This can be thought of as an ‘Inside-Out’ approach, where the communications infrastructure required to manage brands and image (cameras, editing suites, media, design & creative personnel) is held inside large organisations and used to distribute information out.
However, as savvy consumers filter out unwanted advertising information using PVRs, adblockers, SPAM filters, RSS feeds, subscriptions and customer communities, the Inside-Out approach is becoming less and less effective.
Not surprisingly, some companies are looking around for new ideas. Open Source Marketing is one idea that people are turning to as they realise that the values behind the Open Source Movement can be applied to industries beyond technology.
The Open Source approach can be described as ‘Outside-In’. It recognises that in a distributed environment a lot of information and content about a company or brand is being produced outside of the organisation by consumers and other stakeholders. And that companies need systems that allow them to react to this information.
It also recognises that frequently this information is more influential than the spiel produced by a company or brand. For example, someone looking to book a hotel will probably place greater value on a customer community such as virtualtourist.com than a hotel website.
Having lived a lot of my life around marketing weenies, I can tell you that outside-in marketing scares the living hell out of marketing people, because it means they’ve lost control of their brand and their message, and they’re not just pulling levers and watching what happens.
Getting back to Wal*Mart, the marketing weenies there perceived that what was being said in the Blogosphere was nibbling away at their brand. They’re probably right. The job of Action Alley is apparently to help -ahem- steer those out in the Blogosphere toward writing more positively about Wal*Mart.
According to the Motley Fool a guy named Brian Pickrell wrote a blog article suggesting that the State of Maryland telling Wal*Mart how much employee health insurance they have to provide might be a bad idea. Without reading the article I would probably agree with him. According to the Fool, his article sounded a lot like a press release created by Edelman.
So the rigamarole seems to be about Wal*Mart’s conspiracy in feeding news stories to influential bloggers to try to influence what they write. Of course they do. So does everyone else, and to say otherwise is either naive or stupid. That is what public relations are all about.
While I was laughing at this whole thing something very, very cool struck me — all the hubbub is because a company that earns $30 million a day is trying to influence a bunch of bloggers, rightfully believing that they have a lot of influence on the brand, and wrongly believing that they have any influence over them.
We bloggers aren’t stupid, you know. We may use your marketing tripe propoganda, but the marketing weenies have to understand that the only reason we use it is because we agree with it. And while the purists can squawk, I don’t see any problem with that.
So all of us nobodys as a group can turn a ship the size of Wal*Mart.