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US: Wal-Mart Begins Quest for Generals in P.R. War

by Michael BarbaroThe New York Times
March 30th, 2006

Wanted: two people to help defend the nation's largest retailer against critics. Requirements: plenty of experience managing a crisis.

Wal-Mart Stores has begun circulating two senior-level job postings — both in public relations — and if the language used to describe the positions is any indication, the giant discount retailer is on the P.R. equivalent of war footing.

One job includes "opposition research," presumably into Wal-Mart's major critics: Wal-Mart Watch and Wake Up Wal-Mart. The other requires the ability to "mobilize resources" during a "crisis situation."

The two jobs reflect how much life has changed at Wal-Mart, which has come under withering criticism over its wages, health benefits and treatment of workers. The company barely had a public relations department in the early 1990's, but now has a staff of dozens, including a public relations war room full of former political operatives who dispute the assertions of its opponents.

The job postings, which were circulated by Crowe-Innes & Associates, an executive search firm, were given to The New York Times by Wal-Mart Watch, a group backed by unions and foundations that is pressing Wal-Mart to enhance its wages and benefits.

According to the posting for the first job, director of media relations, the successful applicant will oversee Wal-Mart's "crisis communications program."

Rather than simply handling phone calls from the press, the employee must be able to help "triage" those calls, managing messages "in rapid response mode." Mona Williams, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said the company received hundreds of calls a day from reporters.

And, of course, the employee must be on call "24/7" to assist with "emergency response" within the public relations department.

The job requires 10 years' experience in corporate communications and "proven media relationships."

The second job is senior director of campaign management, an executive who will oversee all corporate communications support staff and the war room.

This person, like the media relations director, must have 10 years experience in communications, but also a track record "addressing high- profile political activities," according to the posting. Candidates must "operate successfully in a campaign mode."

One responsibility of the job is to research opponents — a position usually found in presidential political campaigns.

Another is overseeing Wal-Mart's relations with bloggers, many of whom frequently write about the company.

The executive search firm, Crowe-Innes & Associates, did not respond to phone and e-mail messages.

Both of the posted jobs, which would be based at Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., offer "competitive base salary, bonus opportunity and stock options" plus an "excellent benefits package," which are not specified.



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