Walmart’s Pledge to Hire Veterans Is a Dose of Good PR

It's not every day that big-box retailer Walmart is commended by the First Lady and receives positive coverage in the Grey Lady, but that's what the power of a good CSR story can do. 

On Jan. 15 Walmart U.S. President-CEO Bill Simon announced at the National Retail Federation’s annual BIG Show, in New York, that the nation's largest retailer will offer jobs to honorably discharged veterans and expects to hire 100,000 veterans by 2018.

To maximize the initiative (and the communications opportunity behind it) Walmart spoke with the White House about this commitment. “As our wars come to an end and our troops continue to come home, it's more important than ever that all of us—not just government, but our businesses and nonprofits as well—do our part to serve those who have served us so bravely," said First Lady Michelle Obama, according to a Walmart press release. "So today, my challenge is simple: for every business in America to follow Walmart's lead by finding innovative solutions that both make sense for their workplaces and make a difference for our veterans and their families."

If you search The New York Times' archives for Walmart stories, you'll find it sprinkled with controversies regarding employee pay and benefits, the environmental impact of its stores, its treatment of workers overseas and company corruption and bribery in Mexico involving zoning permits. The latest announcement serves as a positive antidote to negative stories about the retail giant, and may be an important step in repairing Walmart's reputation.

The bang-up communications job behind the CSR initiative—using the event as a springboard to the New York press and bringing in the White House—not only got the story in the Times, but, at press time, 6,090 news results for "Walmart, Veterans." Surprisingly, the retailer hasn't posted the announcement anywhere on its Facebook page. However, it's likely that the press and public will spread the message far and wide anyway. Ah, the power of earned media.
PR News will honor the top CSR programs of 2012 in its CSR luncheon on February 11 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Kelly Caffarelli, president of The Home Depot Foundation, will keynote the event and discuss Home Depot's Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, its work on behalf of returning U.S. veterans and the role communications plays in weaving CSR efforts into brand perceptions.

Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg