Walmart breaks a PR rule
ANY OF US could fill pages when it comes to Walmart’s various abuses, as well as the effects of those abuses on the economy, and, therefore, on us all. But today I’m going to comment on just one recent announcement.
Permit me to open with a PR and advertising rule that I have always found useful:
Don’t assume the public is stupid.
Granted, a good deal of the public behave stupidly at times, like when they purchase homeopathic products, believe in psychics, or support Donald Trump. But to assume the public is stupid will sooner or later come back to bite you. Because “behave stupidly at times” is a far cry from “overall stupid.”
With that as groundwork, let’s return to Walmart. The chain just announced that it is going to equalize starting pay throughout its stores. Before you give them a thumbs-up for their generosity, you might want to know that by “equalize starting pay,” they don’t mean “raise all starting pay to match that of the highest-paying stores.” They mean literally the opposite.
But wait, hold on! What about all those jobs going unfilled, at least in part because the pay is too low? Well, according to Associated Press writer Ann d’Innocenzio, “the U.S. job market is starting to loosen up bit. America’s employers added 187,000 jobs in August, evidence of a slowing but still-resilient labor market.” At the risk of putting words in d’Innocenzio’s mouth, the way I read that is: With the worker shortage showing signs of abating, Walmart is hell-bent on a pay policy that helped create it.
But of course Walmart can’t put it that way. That would be bad PR.
But so is spewing bull****. Take, for instance, the official statement from Walmart spokesperson Anne Hatfield:
“Consistent starting pay results in consistent staffing and better customer service while also creating new opportunities for associates to gain new skills from experience across the store and lay the groundwork for their career.”
Come on, Walmart. Stop trying to make it sound as if underpaying is a thoughtful move to improve service and bolster career opportunities. It’s a cost-saving measure. Own it, Walmart. Defend it if you like, if you can, but don’t deny it. And for heaven’s sake don’t expect us to believe that you have customers’ and employees’ best interest at heart by paying less.
Telling the truth, even when the truth is unsavory, is almost always the better PR move. Your customers, of which on as few occasions as possible I am one, aren’t as dumb as you seem to think we are.