Wal-Mart Never Saw it Coming

Today's Wall Street Journal front page article on Wal-Mart by Ann Zimmerman has caught fire worldwide in the news and in the blogosphere. Once again, just as they were enjoying a higher stock price and relatively few controversies, Wal-Mart managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Mixing a presidential campaign and business can be toxic.

I am occasionally a minor source for Wal-Mart stories (not this one) and was aware of this story before it was published. I talked with my Mom last Sunday about what a problem this would be if it came out. Well it came out. What is amazing is that, until last Tuesday, Wal-Mart was unaware of the pending WSJ article. My Mom was, but Wal-Mart wasn't.

Here's why this is vexing. Wal-Mart held meetings explaining why an Obama victory might ensure passage of an act making union organizing easier. OK, fine. But are they aware that Buffy Wicks, the designer of Obama's grassroots campaign, used to work for Wake Up Wal-Mart? Have they noticed that Jeremy Bird, Obama's Ohio campaign manager, used to work with Buffy at the same place? Barak Obama, the um.... presidential candidate co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act, which Wal-Mart is worried about. Why antagonize these people? Wal-Mart HAD to know that word of these "mandatory" meetings would get out. Why hold them at all before the election, thereby making Wal-Mart an issue in the election, potentially alienating customers. Nearly 60% of union households shop at Wal-Mart, btw.

Someone is giving Wal-Mart poor advice. Tactically, these meetings may make sense, in terms of preparing for a looming battle. Strategically, they are a disaster. People in presidential politics play for keeps, and Wal-Mart just pissed off the probable next president. Wal-Mart's outside PR firm is one of the largest in the world. Wal-Mart's EVP of Corporate Affairs, responsible for "reputation management" is a Democratic strategist who shepherded Clinton during the impeachment mess. These people are smart and paid well to anticipate consequences of certain corporate actions, and prevent them. How could they not foresee the fallout of these meetings? And how could they not know of an impending front page Wall Street Journal story about them?

My Mom did.