Should Wal-Mart worry when Jon Stewart fries its reputation?


Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show is a wickedly funny forum for public affairs, politics and satire. But unless you’re promoting your new book [David Petraeus biographer Paula Broadwell’s appearance on the show was the most widely used video clip when their affair exploded] you and your company probably want to avoid its barbs.

And while Wal-Mart, #2 behind Exxon-Mobil on the Fortune 500, has little to worry about from Stewart’s mockery, it doesn’t help. In fact, it has to hurt. Why?

Stewart’s show reaches about 2.3 million people live each night, but is viewed and re-viewed for weeks by millions more online, its links passed from friend to friend.

In addition, it usually rates No. 1 for late-night talk shows among all people 18-49, people 18-34, people 18-24, men 18-34 and men 18-24 across all of television, both broadcast and cable, according to tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com.

Are these not the next generation of Wal-Mart customers? Can Wal-Mart infinitely excuse its low wages, meager benefits and anti-union attitude? Does Wal-Mart know of Stewart’s rancor or care? And, given some of the truly major [bribery] crises Wal-Mart faces internationally, a few Black Friday protests by employees seeking to unionize for better pay and their first benefits are not rattling the glass in CEO Mike Duke’s office.

Those questions arise because we can’t call one night of teasing a crisis for a $450 billion company that sells more products to more people than any other. But Wal-Mart can’t want to be seen as the Grinch Who Stole Retailing either, or the BP of American companies, the Voldermort of changing pinched pennies into gold. If you take enough bullets in your reputational body armor, one eventually draws blood.

What should Wal-Mart do? If it wanted to project its inner “good sport,” it could dispatch a top VP with a sense of humor to be on Stewart’s show. OK, it could first hire a VP with a sense of humor to be on Stewart’s show.

You get the point. Wal-Mart is so enormous, its gigantic body and its pea-sized heart such easy targets, that there’s really very little it can do. The traditional routes, such as publicizing endless charitable work, go off the road when critics for 30 years accused your company of devouring small mom and pop-based downtowns and spitting out good-paying, benefits-added jobs and replacing them with lower-paid, no benefits, part-time jobs.

I’d still try to send a good, funny, likeable VP to Stewart’s show. What’s to lose?

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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