Wal-Mart’s latest efforts to get out the “real facts” about the company have managed to give the nation’s most reviled retailer one more enemy: community newspapers. In a strongly worded letter attacking Wal-Mart, the President of the National Newspaper Association (NNA), Mike Buffington, complains to Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott about what many newspapers consider an arrogant ploy by the firm for some free PR. Wal-Mart made media buys in major metro newspapers, but ignored the small community newspapers in towns where Wal-Mart has had its worst impacts. Here is the letter from the NNA:
January 14, 2005
Mr. H. Lee Scott, CEO
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Bentonville, AR 72716
Dear Mr. Scott:
I was contacted yesterday by Jack Newton of Hill & Knowlton PR firm in Atlanta. Mr. Newton advised me that Wal-Mart representatives were “available for interviews” about the firm’s nationwide campaign to “set the record straight about the facts about Wal-Mart.” In addition to co-owning and operating four community newspapers in Northeast Georgia, I also currently serve as president of the National Newspapers Association. As both a newspaper publisher and as a spokesman for several thousand community newspapers in America, I want to let you know that I, and many of my fellow publishers, are insulted by this Wal-Mart PR effort. Wal-Mart built its foundation of stores in many of our rural and suburban communities, the places where I and many of my fellow publishers operate newspapers. Yet community newspapers across the nation are all but invisible to Wal-Mart – unless the company is looking for some free PR in our pages. Wal-Mart has a fairly standard policy of doing little to no local newspaper advertising. But now, when under fire from various critics, you turn to us to help you fight back. Adding insult to injury, you expect us to give you free space to do that with PR solicitations such as the one I received from Hill & Knowlton. So why is it that community newspapers in America are good enough to help you fend off critics with free PR, but we’re not good enough for your paid advertising? You can’t have it both ways. Based on a number of previous conversations I’ve had with newspaper publishers and editors across America, I don’t think you will find very many who are willing to give you the requested free PR space to fend off attacks from your corporate critics. I believe my view is one held by many newspaper publishers: If Wal-Mart wants to communicate valuable information about itself to our readers, then you can purchase our valuable advertising space to do it. Anything less is just an insult to the community newspapers of America.
President, National Newspaper Association
The next time your local newspaper starts editorializing in support of Wal-Mart, print out this letter and send it over to your editor or publisher, suggesting that if Wal-Mart succeeds in killing off more local businesses, one of the businesses to go along with them will be the local community newspaper. Wal-Mart doesn’t buy local column inches. Part of their “free market” philosophy apparently is to seek “free” space in local newspapers.