Wal-Mart Courts Bloggers to Boost Image

Posted on March 6, 2006

The New York Times reports tonight that Wal-Mart has been contacting bloggers in an attempt to boost their image.

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

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

"As more and more Americans go to the Internet to get information from varied, credible, trusted sources, Wal-Mart is committed to participating in that online conversation," she said.

Copies of e-mail messages that a Wal-Mart representative sent to bloggers were made available to The New York Times by Bob Beller, who runs a blog called Crazy Politico's Rantings. Mr. Beller, a regular Wal-Mart shopper who frequently defends the retailer on his blog, said the company never asked that the messages be kept private.

The Times article says the email messages are sent by Marshall Manson, a blogger and senior account supervisor at Edelman, a PR company that does work for the retail giant.
The author of the e-mail messages is a blogger named Marshall Manson, a senior account supervisor at Edelman who writes for conservative Web sites like Human Events Online, which advocates limited government, and Confirm Them, which has pushed for the confirmation of President Bush's judicial nominees.
The article says some bloggers used at least a few sentences from the email verbatim. The Times says Mr. Pickrell (Iowa Voice blog) posted text from Manson's email in "at least three postings" and attributed the text to a reader in one of his posts. A RawStory article says the bloggers are being paid but there is no indication in the Times article that the bloggers are being paid to post text supportive of the massive retailer. However, an article from PRWatch.org said Edelman hired RedState.org blogger Michael Krempasky for PR work in September, 2005 that included Wal-Mart promotion efforts. Some bloggers disclose that they received information from Wal-Mart or Marshall Manson and some do not. The Times says Manson does not encourage bloggers to reveal the source:
"But Mr. Manson has not encouraged bloggers to reveal that they communicate with Wal-Mart or to attribute information to either the retailer or Edelman, Ms. Williams of Wal-Mart said."
Wal-Mart did offer bloggers a trip to a media conference at its headquarters but said bloggers would have to pay their own way. Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.com declined the offer. He says, "Bentonville, Arkansas is not my idea of a fun destination."

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