Wal-Mart’s Public Relations Machine is working over-time these days, as the company keeps spending shareholder’s money on Big Name “Ambassadors” to help move the company’s image. The giant retailer has hired former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, who has performed similar tasks for hire for the Nike corporation. Both Wal-Mart and Nike share the common “sweat” of child labor in Third World countries. Now the retailer is hiring former politicians, like Young, to encourage the public to see Wal-Mart as a good corporate citizen. The company unveiled its latest PR weapon recently: a retired nun named Harriet Hentges, whom the media described as a “foreign conflict mediator,” which seems appropriate for the role she is to play. Wal-Mart’s corporate policies are becoming more and more foreign to the average American, and conflicts against Wal-Mart are flaring up across every state in America. According to press reports, Hentges will speak on behalf of Wal-Mart’s environmental, health care, and labor relations policies. Her job title sounds something akin to a Vampire Hunter: Senior Director of Stakeholder Engagement. She will reportedly work with non-profit organizations, academic groups and government agencies to “lead the company’s sustainability efforts.” After hiring the former religious leader, Wal-Mart made the following “confession” through its PR department: “We want to be up front and do our part to be a better business.” Sister Hentges was in the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet for roughly 14 years. She also served as the chief operating officer of the League of Women Voters before becoming a mediator for the United States Institute of Peace. At this point in its corporate life, Wal-Mart could use as many mediators as it can find. Perhaps instead of store greeters, the company should supply each store with a Mediator to represent its brand to local communities trying to block its superstores. The cost of these PR positions to the company has not be made public, and Andrew Young has refused to indicate how much Wal-Mart pays him to organize families for Wal-Mart.
Andrew Young and Harriet Hentges are very fine, upstanding corporate spokespersons, but Wal-Mart really needs to reach out to other “Ambassadors” who will resonate with citizens Wal-Mart is desperately trying to woo. Why not hire David Chapelle to court the young, ethnic vote? Walter Cronkite has time on his hands now, and could certainly bring some veracity to the “Wal-Mart Facts” campaign among older consumers. Willy Nelson could bring cross-over appeal to the company among country and rock fans, and Al Gore would boost the retailer’s environmental credentials. After all, Wal-Mart is really just a logo and brand, that owns no production capacity. It shouldn’t be too hard to find new spokespeople willing to push the brand — always.