Google, Walmart Internal Memos Go External

 Google, Walmart Internal Memos Go External

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Google and Walmart.

A set of “talking points” is a basic element of the PR professional’s toolkit. But should talking points be broadly distributed to employees? The short answer: maybe.

Two incidents this week suggest talking points are best kept under lock and key. Both involve documents, intended for internal use only, that were leaked. At Google, talking points about the company’s private buses, which are irritating most of San Francisco, sounded imperious and gave the impression the company was putting words in Googlers’ mouths. The memo suggested employees say that eliminating the buses would increase city congestion because they’d have to drive to work, and a condescending “Feel free to add your own style or opinion” also rubbed people the wrong way. And Walmart‘s fictional scripts about unionization were leaked by Occupy, the protest group against economic inequality. The scripts  were goofy theoretical representations of how employees might discuss the prospect of unionization.

What was wrong with these documents wasn’t the content but the tone. Google comes off as superior (Valleywag.com described “a memo from the overlords”), while Wal-Mart’s fake conversations feel like they’re trying to put one over on employees. These companies might have escaped  some of the negative PR from these leaks if they’d just provided workers with straightforward facts that articulated their company’s position – nothing more.

THE PR VERDICT:  “C” (Distinctly OK) for Google and Walmart. Good ideas, clumsy execution.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: A company with employees is a company with spokespeople – lots of them. Trying to manage your workers’ public commentary is futile, not to mention potentially damaging from a PR perspective. Instead, be up front. Don’t tell employees what to say or think, just provide the company’s reasons for doing what it’s doing (and leave out the hyperbole and manipulation). Employees who agree with you are smart enough to adopt your eloquent words for their own. The ones who don’t? Well, a company memo won’t change their minds anyway.

Walmart Chooses to Show Face Rather Than Lose It

 Walmart Chooses to Show Face Rather Than Lose It

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Walmart showing face.

Thanksgiving in America is a celebration of abundance, but not so for workers at Walmart. Just before the holiday break, petition group MoveOn.Org released a statement about Walmart  setting up a food drive to feed the hungry on Thanksgiving – not for the homeless or a charity bank but for their own workers.

A long-known fact that minimum wage is not a living wage has received special attention in the past year. McDonald’s employee budget sheet would have been laughable had the need for it not been so dire. Employees of fast food restaurants and retail stores are barely able to pay bills, buy food, clothe their families.

Yesterday, TV news magazine CBS Sunday Morning did a segment on “Fight for 15,” a campaign to raise minimum wage to at least $15 (the federal minimum wage starts at $7.25 and is adjusted at the state level). The report noted that “of all the corporations Sunday Morning reached out to, Walmart was the only one that would provide an interview.” While David Tovar, Walmart’s VP of Communications, was only quoted as saying that they “don’t want people to stay in entry-level jobs very long,” the fact that the demonized company allowed an interview was a bold move indeed.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) to Walmart for showing face toward an ugly accusation.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Silence is not always golden.”Guilty as charged” is the only conclusion the public can, and will, draw from a corporation that turns down a request for interview. Given the way the Sunday Morning segment was edited whether direct questions weren’t asked or weren’t answered is unclear but Walmart main PR point was made: Walmart creates jobs. Not the entire story, to be sure, but the PR task at hand was to remove the demon mask from the corporation. Keep the good face on and there may be reason for all to give thanks.

Sick Leave Issue Makes Disney Look Ill

 Sick Leave Issue Makes Disney Look Ill

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Disney World.

Walt Disney World: The Happiest Place on Earth… Unless you’re not feeling well. That’s the word out of Florida, where the family-friendly entertainment resort is being slammed for blocking employees from receiving paid sick time.

That’s what the press is reporting, anyway. In truth, Disney World and other businesses are objecting to state legislation that would allow local governments in Florida to enact their own wage-and-benefits laws. Presumably, Disney’s lobbyists are arguing that, in addition to an inherent question of fairness, having to conform to potentially dozens of local laws would place an undue burden on their clients.

We use the word “presumably” because Disney has not commented on the matter and its position, if public, is nowhere to be found. As a result, the media is carrying only the messages of disgruntled employees, their unions, and a grassroots group called MomsRising that has taken the issue of guaranteed sick time national. Last week, a group of MomsRising activists who tried to deliver a petition to Disney’s corporate offices were turned away by security.

This isn’t Disney’s first tussle with employees. A few years ago, a union representing 25,000 Disney employees shot a film called Mouse Trapped 2010. In it, workers tell tales of earning less than $8 an hour after three years of service and having to go to local churches for handouts despite being employed full-time. It’s a small wage after all, and this latest news could bring ill will to Disney’s PR.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Disney World. One need only look to Walmart or Michael Moore’s film Roger & Me slamming General Motors to see what might be in store for the Magic Kingdom.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Silence may be golden, but it’s not always the right PR move. Once your name is in the headlines, it can pay to clarify your position. This is particularly true for a place like Disney World, a global powerhouse of a business built on fairy tales – being seen as being mean just doesn’t fit the brand. Disney may think it has bigger fish to fry than dealing with some squeaky wheels in Florida, but management would do well to recall the famous advice of U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill: “All politics is local.”

 

 

 

 

Walmart’s Un-Happy Thanksgiving

73248406 150x150 Walmarts Un Happy Thanksgiving

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Walmart.

Ah, Thanksgiving, the holiday when American families gather together over a meal, express gratitude, spend time together… And then start their holiday shopping at 8 pm, right after dinner, Aunt Mabel visiting from Boise be damned.

At least, that’s what Walmart and other major retailers are hoping will happen when it makes the unprecedented move of opening its doors to shoppers on Thanksgiving night. Store workers will have to arrive hours before opening time, thereby putting a serious dent in their holiday.

A strike at Walmart is now planned on Black Friday, the nation’s biggest retail day. Workers are fed up, claiming ongoing retaliation for speaking out for better pay, fair schedules and affordable health care. A Walmart spokesman answered, “The super majority of our 1.3 million associates are excited about Black Friday and are ready to serve our customers.” Ironically, Walmart failed to secure an injunction agains the union and the strike.  The earliest it could get one is Thursday, the national holiday, when courts are closed.

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Walmart. Their decision to start Black Friday so early on Thanksgiving Thursday plays right back into its ongoing PR problem of being one of the country’s meanest employers.

The PR Takeaway: Thanksgiving begins at home. Walmart has had persistent PR problems when it comes to employee relations. As one of the nation’s largest employers it has been routinely been characterised (fairly or unfairly) as the employer who scrimps on benefits and pays a barely living wage. Walmart’s PR answer has been to focus on its role in the community including Working Families for Wal-Mart, a nonprofit organization funded by the retail giant to combat criticism of the company. But with this move it will be hard to take seriously its pledged commitment  to helping families and local communities. RIP, Thanksgiving; hello, Dark Thursday.

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Note: The PRV returns on Monday. Happy Thanksgiving to our readers!