Wal-Mart focuses energy on the wrong battle

The Wal-Mart empire is striking back. In a public relations blitz, the company that employs more Americans than the U.S. Army is trying to improve its reputation. But as other corporations such as McDonalds have learned, it would be more effective if Wal-Mart focused its energies on improving conditions in its stores, rather than spending them on glorifying advertising.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, Wal-Mart went so far as to take out full-page advertisements in 100 newspapers nationally, including The St. Petersburg Times, Tampa Tribune, Florida Sentinel and Weekly Challenger as well as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. The corporation also conducted public relations strikes, hitting 14 well-chosen media markets in which Wal-Mart felt a boost in public perception of its stores would help them.

Wal-Mart officials were seen and heard essentially stating over and over that Wal-Mart was simply being misunderstood and was actually a corporation that was there to help people.

This is doubtful at best. Wal-Mart has been in the news due to policies forbidding employees from organizing in unions. Repeatedly the company fired those that dared to join unions in attempts to better their working conditions. Wal-Mart was also forced to acknowledge it paid female workers less than male workers for the same job. Internationally the company has also made waves, notably when it announced plans to open a store in close proximity to culturally important sites in Mexico despite local residents being quite vocal about not wanting the store there.

Bearing all these conditions in mind, it is hard to see what part the company feels is being misunderstood.

Wherever the stores open, they create jobs in the short term, but more often than not affect the surrounding local economy negatively. Other retailers often cannot compete with the retail giant, and in the long run this causes a net loss of jobs rather than the creation of them. Taking out ads and parading out a few employees who speak out for the company will not change these conditions.

In a similar public relations incident, McDonalds complained about the Merriam-Webster dictionary including the term “McJob” in their lexicon. The term was defining the infamous low-paying jobs at the world’s biggest fast-food company, but may as well also apply to jobs at Wal-Mart. Back then, McDonalds officials called the term a “slap in the face” to the 12 million people who work in the restaurant industry, according to an Associated Press article.

But the simple fact remains that Wal-Mart is responsible for what goes on in their stores. Only they can change the conditions that have given the company such a bad reputation. In the long run, better working conditions might be preferable — though not profitable — to waging a public relations war.