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Wal-Mart Enlists Bloggers in P.R. Campaign  

2007-03-08 15:38:14|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Wal-MartEnlists Bloggers in P.R. Campaign
Published:March 7, 2006

Brian Pickrell, ablogger, recently posted a note on his Web site attacking statelegislation that would force Wal-MartStores to spend more onemployee health insurance. "All across the country, newspapereditorial boards — no great friends of business — are ripping thebills," he wrote.

It was the kind ofpro-Wal-Mart comment the giant retailer might write itself. And, infact, it did.

Several sentencesin Mr. Pickrell's Jan. 20 posting — and others from different days— are identical to those written by an employee at one ofWal-Mart's public relations firms and distributed by e-mail tobloggers.

Under assault asnever before, Wal-Mart is increasingly looking beyond themainstream media and working directly with bloggers, feeding themexclusive nuggets of news, suggesting topics for postings and eveninviting them to visit its corporate headquarters.

Butthe strategy raises questions about what bloggers, who pridethemselves on independence, should disclose to readers. Wal-Mart,the nation's largest private employer, has been forthright withbloggers about the origins of its communications, and the companyand its public relations firm, Edelman, say they do not compensatethe bloggers.

Butsome bloggers have posted information from Wal-Mart, at times wordfor word, without revealing where it came from.

Glenn Reynolds, thefounder of Instapundit.com,one of the oldest blogs on the Web, said that even in theblogosphere, which is renowned for its lack of rules, a basic tenetapplies: "If I reprint something, I say where it came from. A blogis about your voice, it seems to me, not somebodyelse's."

Companies of allstripes are using blogs to help shape public opinion.

BeforeGeneralElectric announced a majorinvestment in energy-efficient technology last year, companyexecutives first met with major environmental bloggers to buildsupport. Others have reached out to bloggers to promote a productor service, as Microsoftdidwith its Xbox game system and Cingular Wireless has done in theintroduction of a new phone.

Whatis different about Wal-Mart's approach to blogging is that ratherthan promoting a product — something it does quite well, given its$300 billion in annual sales — it is trying to improve itsbattered image.

Wal-Mart, longcriticized for low wages and its health benefits, began workingwith bloggers in late 2005 "as part of our overall effort to tellour story," said Mona Williams, a company spokeswoman.

"Asmore and more Americans go to the Internet to get information fromvaried, credible, trusted sources, Wal-Mart is committed toparticipating in that online conversation," she said.

Copies of e-mailmessages that a Wal-Mart representative sent to bloggers were madeavailable to The NewYork Times by Bob Beller, whoruns a blog called Crazy Politico's Rantings. Mr. Beller, a regularWal-Mart shopper who frequently defends the retailer on his blog,said the company never asked that the messages be keptprivate.

Inthe messages, Wal-Mart promotes positive news about itself, likethe high number of job applications it received at a new store inIllinois, and criticizes opponents, noting for example that arival, Target,raised "zero" money for the Salvation Army in 2005, because itbanned red-kettle collectors from stores.

Theauthor of the e-mail messages is a blogger named Marshall Manson, asenior account supervisor at Edelman who writes for conservativeWeb sites like Human Events Online, which advocates limitedgovernment, and Confirm Them, which has pushed for the confirmationof President Bush's judicial nominees.[Text: A PDF copy ofan e-mail exchange between Mr. Manson and Rob Port, ofSayanythingblog.com.]

Ininterviews, bloggers said Mr. Manson contacted them after theywrote postings that either endorsed the retailer or challenged itscritics.

Mr.Beller, who runs Crazy Politico's Rantings, for example, said hereceived an e-mail message from Mr. Manson soon after criticizingthe passage of a law in Maryland that requires Wal-Mart to spend 8percent of its payroll on health care.

Mr.Manson, identifying himself as a "blogger myself" who does "onlinepublic affairs for Wal-Mart," began with a bit of flattery: "Justwanted you to know that your post criticizing Maryland's Wal-Marthealth care bill was noticed here and at the corporate headquartersin Bentonville," he wrote, referring to the city inArkansas.

"Ifyou're interested," he continued, "I'd like to drop you theoccasional update with some newsworthy info about the company andan occasional nugget that you won't hear about in the M.S.M." — ormainstream media.

Bloggers who agreedto receive the e-mail messages said they were eager to hearWal-Mart's side of the story, which they said they felt had beendrowned out by critics, and were tantalized by the promise ofexclusive news that might attract more visitors to their Websites.

"Iam always interested in tips to stories," said one recipient of Mr.Manson's e-mail messages, Bill Nienhuis, who operates a Web sitecalled PunditGuy.com.

Butsome bloggers are also defensive about their contacts withWal-Mart. When they learned that The New York Times was looking athow they were using information from the retailer, several bloggersposted items challenging The Times's article before it hadappeared. One blog, Iowa Voice, run by Mr. Pickrell, pleads foradvertisers to buy space on the blog in anticipation of moretraffic because of the article.

Thee-mail messages Mr. Manson has sent to bloggers are structured liketypical blog postings, with a pungent sentence or two introducing alink to a news article or release.

JohnMcAdams, a political science professor at Marquette University whoruns the Marquette Warrior blog, recently posted three links aboutunion activity in the same order as he received them from Mr.Manson. Mr. McAdams acknowledged that he worked from Wal-Mart'slinks and that he did not disclose his contact with Mr.Manson.

"Iusually do not reveal where I get a tip or a lead on a story," hesaid, adding that journalists often do not disclose where they getideas for stories either.

Wal-Mart has warnedbloggers against lifting text from the e-mail it sends them. Afterapparently noticing the practice, Mr. Manson asked them to "resistthe urge," because "I'd be sick if someone ripped you because theynoticed a couple of bloggers with nearly identicalposts."

ButMr. Manson has not encouraged bloggers to reveal that theycommunicate with Wal-Mart or to attribute information to either theretailer or Edelman, Ms. Williams of Wal-Mart said.

Tobe sure, some bloggers who post material from Mr. Manson's e-maildo disclose its origins, mentioning Mr. Manson and Wal-Mart byname. But others refer to Mr. Manson as "one reader," say theyreceived a "heads up" about news from Wal-Mart or disclose nothingat all.

Mr.Pickrell, the 37-year-old who runs the Iowa Voice blog, said hebegan receiving updates from Wal-Mart in January. Like Mr. Beller,of Crazy Politico, Mr. Pickrell had criticized the Marylandlegislature over its health care law before Wal-Mart contactedhim.

Since then, he haswritten at least three postings that contain language identical tosentences in e-mail from Mr. Manson. In one, which Mr. Pickrellattributed to a "reader," he reported that Wal-Mart was about toannounce that a store in Illinois received 25,000 applications for325 jobs. "That's a 1.3 percent acceptance rate," the message read."Consider this: HarvardUniversity (undergraduate)accepts 11 percent of applicants. The Navy Seals accept 5 percentof applicants."

Asked in atelephone interview about the resemblance of his postings to Mr.Manson's, Mr. Pickrell said: "I probably cut and paste a little bitand I should not have," adding that "I try to write my posting inmy own words."

Inan e-mail message sent after the interview, Mr. Pickrell said hereceived e-mail from many groups, including those opposed toWal-Mart, which he uses as a starting point to "do my own researchon a topic."

"Idraw my own conclusions when I form my opinions," hesaid.

Mr.Pickrell, explaining his support for Wal-Mart, said he shops thereregularly and is impressed with how his mother-in-law, a Wal-Martemployee, is treated. "They go real out of their way for theirpeople," he said.

Wal-Mart's blogginginitiative is part of a ballooning public relations campaigndeveloped in consultation with Edelman to help Wal-Mart as twogroups, Wal-Mart Watch and Wake Up Wal-Mart, aggressively prod itto change. The groups operate blogs that receive posts from currentand former Wal-Mart employees, elected leaders andconsumers.

Edelman also helpedWal-Mart develop a political-style war room, staffed by formerpolitical operatives, which monitors and responds to the retailer'scritics, and helped create Working Families for Wal-Mart, a newgroup that is trying to build support for the company in citiesacross the country.

AtEdelman, Mr. Manson, who sends many of the e-mail messages tobloggers, works closely on the Wal-Mart account with MikeKrempasky, a co-founder of RedState.org,a conservative blog. Both are regular bloggers, which in Mr.Manson's case means he has written critically of individuals andgroups Wal-Mart may eventually call on for support.

Before he was hiredby Edelman in November, Mr. Manson wrote on the Human Events Onlineblog that members of the San Francisco city council were "dolts"and "twits" for rejecting a proposed World War II memorial and thatevery day "the UnitedNations slides further andfurther into irrelevance." After he was hired, Mr. Manson wrotethat the career of Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island wasmarked by "pointless indecision."

Wal-Mart declinedto make Mr. Manson available for comment. Ms. Williams said, "It isnot Wal-Mart's role to monitor the opinions of our consultants orhow they express them on their own time."

In asign of how eager Wal-Mart is to develop ties to bloggers, thecompany has invited them to a media conference to be held at itsheadquarters in April. In e-mail messages, Wal-Mart has polledseveral bloggers about whether they would make the trip, which thebloggers would have to pay for themselves.

Mr.Reynolds of Instapundit.com said he recently was invited toWal-Mart's offices but declined. "Bentonville, Arkansas," he said,"is not my idea of a fun destination."

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