Wal-Mart Under Fire After PR Rep Poses as Reporter


Wal-Mart and one of its PR agencies have found themselves in hot water after an employee of the agency posed as a reporter and attended a labor group meeting in Los Angeles. This misadventure plays right into the public's most negative opinions of PR practitioners. 

As first reported by Gawker, “reporter” Stephanie Harnett infiltrated a press conference held by Warehouse Workers United, a labor group working to improve conditions for Wal-Mart’s L.A. warehouse workers. In actuality, Harnett was an associate of Mercury Public Affairs, which is being paid $60,000 to assist Wal-Mart in its potential store opening in L.A.’s Chinatown neighborhood.

According to reports, Harnett attended a June 6 press conference under the alias of “Zoe Mitchell” and conducted a 20-minute, taped interview with a warehouse worker, asking detailed questions about the company’s work conditions. Harnett showed up again at a June 13 press conference and handed out business cards with “Stephanie Harnett” on them and saying she works for Wal-Mart.

In a statement, Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo said, “These actions were unacceptable, misleading and wrong. Our culture of integrity is a constant at Wal-Mart and by not properly identifying herself, this individual's behavior was contrary to our values and the way we do business.” 

Mercury Public Affairs has responded as well, with managing director Becky Warren confirming to Gawker that Harnett is no longer with the company: “Stephanie is a junior member of our team who made an immature decision. She showed very poor judgment and Mercury takes full responsibility. We are taking the necessary disciplinary actions. This is an isolated incident that has never happened before and will not happen again.”

To say this was a lapse in judgment would be an understatement. These actions go against the core ethical values most PR pros live by.

PRSA chair and CEO Gerard Corbett tells PR News that he hopes PR professionals can learn from Wal-Mart’s blunder. “Thank you Wal-Mart for another teachable moment,” Corbett says. “Now please make note: Transparency and truth reign. Stunts like this never work, and people who instigate them will eventually never work. Wal-Mart and the PR agency involved need to do a self-examination to assess how and why this occurred. Higher heads need to be accountable, and there is lots of blame to go around.”

Follow Jamar Hudson: @jamarhudson 


Comments Off

Deals of the Week

Get $150 Off PR News' Social Media Summit

Social Media Summit with Taste of Tech 2015Join PR News at the Marriott Marquis in New York on Oct. 5 for the Social Media Summit, where expert communicators will share in-depth case studies from their social efforts. “Taste of Tech,” a unique element of the Summit, will feature partners who “get PR” and can help you make your social initiatives more impactful.

Use code “150” at checkout to save $150 on the regular rate.

Get $50 off PR News' Crisis Management Guidebook

PRNews-Crisis-guidebook-180x150-sb

Crisis management is an art, not a science. In this edition of PR News’ Book of Crisis Management Strategies & Tactics, you will discover many different views on this art, and you are certain to find takeaways that will transform the way your organization handles crises. 

Use code “50off” at checkout.

Save $100 on a PR News Subscription

cover5.18

 

Let PR News become your weekly, go-to resource for the latest PR trends, case studies and tip sheets. Topics covered include visual storytelling, social media, measurement, crisis management and media relations.

Use code “SUBDEAL” at checkout.

Comments are closed.