A Smiley Face with a Red Pen

by Dan Ward

I realize I’m late to the game in commenting on Walmart’s classic response to a New York Times attack piece, but after reading the columnist’s reply, I had to weigh in.

In case you missed it, columnist Timothy Egan wrote a scathing piece about Walmart last week that essentially blamed the retailer for rising income inequality and called it a “net drain on taxpayers.”  Walmart’s vice president of corporate communications, David Tovar, replied on the Walmart blog with a humorous, red-line version of the story, offering a few corrections to Egan’s “first draft.”

The blog post has since been covered by numerous national media outlets and shared across social networks, and I’d venture a guess it has been read by many more people than the original story.

Egan’s subsequent response makes it clear that Walmart struck a nerve with its risky strategy.  When asked about the post, Egan replied “it seems pretty snarky for a company that puts Smiley buttons on every piece of Chinese-made crap they sell.”  (You have to love when someone uses snark to complain about another’s snarkiness.)

Walmart’s post got under the columnist’s skin because it was effective.  Positive talking points related to Walmart’s hiring of veterans, corporate philanthropy and employee promotion are now getting significant media coverage.

It was also risky, sharing Egan’s column with many current and potential customers who otherwise may not have seen it.

I think in this case it was a risk worth taking.  Tovar is not likely to be concerned with ticking off a columnist whose newspaper does not target his customer.  He also had a significant amount of detailed information to call upon in rebutting what he saw as Egan’s inaccuracies.  And his response, even while pointing out a number of perceived inaccuracies, remained positive and humorous.  He took the high road.

So, what do you think?  Was this a risk worth taking or will Walmart pay a price for publicly calling out a media giant?

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