Wal-Mart’s Blue State Spinmeister

Discussion
Oct 05, 2006

By George Anderson


There really is nothing about Leslie Dach to suggest he is a Wal-Mart kind of guy.


The former Democratic party honcho and current executive vice president of governmental relations and corporate affairs for Wal-Mart is looking to remake the world’s largest retailer and red state stalwart into a company any progressive blue stater could love and, even better, shop at.


When Mr. Dach was introduced in July in his new position, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott said, “Leslie has been a part of our transformation over the last year. He brings new perspective, diverse talents and tremendous expertise to his role as a member of our strategic and executive teams. I look forward to his continued involvement as we transform our business for the future.”


For his part, Mr. Dach appears sold on the idea that the retail giant is changing and that it holds the power to help reshape society along with its own transformation.


Mr. Dach told Ad Age, he has a “fundamental belief that change and progress on the big challenges in society are going to come from business.”


In July, Mr. Dach spoke to the changes he has seen. “Over the past year I’ve seen firsthand Wal-Mart’s transformation on sustainability and health care and its record on economic opportunity and job creation. The changes are real and substantial steps for the business.”


Mr. Dach, according to Ad Age, has been influential in Wal-Mart’s voting registration initiative for its workers along with the company’s generic drug pricing plan. The two initiatives have brought the retailer lots of positive press.


While Mr. Dach works his magic in Bentonville, there are many former associates within the Beltway who are scratching their heads over his involvement with Wal-Mart.


“The only thing I can hope is he is doing it for the money, because the Leslie Dach I knew wouldn’t be there,” said Joe Trippi, former campaign manager for Howard Dean. “I don’t begrudge him doing it, but let’s not go and tell everyone you’re going to change the world at Wal-Mart.”


Still others, such as Richard Edelman, president and CEO at Edelman Worldwide, believe Mr. Dach is in a position to make the kind of change happen at Wal-Mart that those in the center and left of the political spectrum will support.


Mr. Edelman said the relationship Mr. Dach has developed with Lee Scott is the key.


“They clicked. He (Mr. Dach) became more than a trusted adviser. He became a go-to guy on policy. He’s one of the top seven guys in the company, and that’s amazing on the face of it. It’s not that usual in the PR business.”


An unidentified Democratic party consultant also trusts Mr. Dach’s instincts. “Leslie is a committed Democrat,” the consultant said. “I have to hope he sees something. He has a very tight-knit relationship with the CEO, and if he is seeing something, I’m inclined to believe it.”


Not everyone is convinced Wal-Mart is on the right track with its PR offensive.


A former, albeit unidentified, “insider” at the company, told Ad Age, “They need to spend more time on the business. Wal-Mart is not a political machine. It’s a retailer.”


Mr. Dach, for his part, doesn’t see any contradiction with Wal-Mart’s public relations initiatives and its role as a merchant.


“In today’s communication world, the line between marketing and public relations is thin and nonexistent,” he said. “Everyone should know the strategy. The ideas should be encouraged to come from anywhere, and the execution is a tactical decision.”


Discussion Questions: Do you share Leslie Dach’s view that “change and progress on the big challenges in society are going to come from business”? What
about the view that Wal-Mart needs to “spend more time on the business” and less on its public relations initiatives?

Join the Discussion!

11 Comments on "Wal-Mart’s Blue State Spinmeister"


Sort by:   newest | oldest
Jennifer Polanz
Guest
Jennifer Polanz
11 years 3 months ago

Regardless of Wal-Mart’s incentive for its practices – taking money out of the wallets of its customers (isn’t that the point of retail?) or to truly make a difference, it has the opportunity to influence the world in a major way. I’ve always felt that Wal-Mart has the power to change the world, it’s just a matter of whether it will change it for better or for worse.

In the end, it will be its actions that make the change – carrying certain product lines, the way it treats its vendors, what benefits and pay scale it provides its employees. Consumers can see through PR campaigns, but real actions make the difference.

David Livingston
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

Whatever Wal-Mart does, its all about separating as much money from people’s pockets and putting it in theirs. Anything beyond that is a charade. They can repackage their message anyway they want. It would be naive to think that Wal-Mart or any large retailer is concerned about any social, economic, or environmental issues. The employees still don’t have adequate health insurance, they are still poorly paid, and oil still runs off of their parking lots. Wal-Mart seems so desperate lately to hire a liberal face for some make-work job in their company. A couple of months ago it was Andrew Young. They are trying to be buddies with Al Gore. I would not be surprised to see Bill Clinton or Jane Fonda becoming their next spokesperson. If his charade works, then more power to them.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

I agree that the line between marketing and PR is thin. The customer knows no difference. For the customer, his or her opinion of Wal-Mart is based on a good price for a product under consideration, a clean (or dirty) restroom, a friendly (or unfriendly) associate, a pronouncement on $4 generic drugs or the promotion of fish products endorsed by the MSC. The Wal-Mart brand, just as any brand, is like velcro – stuff sticks to it.

Some of the above issues are marketing’s responsibility and some are PR. Keep in mind the customer doesn’t care which Wal-Mart function addresses these topics, only that they are done in such a fashion as to reinforce the customer’s decision to shop at Wal-Mart.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

Dach is right about change. By default, business has become the only social institution left with the potential to make credible, significant, organic change in society. This doesn’t mean that it will happen, of course, just that he’s right in theory. It isn’t that business is so credible, it’s that the other social institutions are morally bankrupt. As to whether Wal-Mart should be focusing on public relations or business, it’s all the same at this point. They need community goodwill to advance their business, otherwise they are going to have real problems.

Sherri Ann Fransen
Guest
Sherri Ann Fransen
11 years 3 months ago

Leslie Dach, even though he is a Democrat, is right on target when he steers Wal-Mart in a direction to make big social changes in society as a whole. Wal-Mart can take a bite out of crime by severely prosecuting any and all shoplifters as well as anyone who creates a menacing disturbance on any Wal-Mart property. Wal-Mart has a social conscience and can wield its mighty power in the fight for truth, justice, and the American way. We need more corporate leaders to take a strong stand and give leadership FOR family, faith, and friendship all across this great land we live in. We need more individuals to stand strong and fight against rising crime rates, illegals, identity theft and illiteracy and the spread of gangs and graffiti. Wal-Mart, with the help and backing of every American company/corporation can help the USA get back to being a great nation.

Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
11 years 3 months ago
We did nearly half a million price checks in 300 cities and found that for 85% of items, Wal-Mart’s prices are higher than its competitors as a group. Right, higher. Because of the operation of a number of complex mechanisms, consumers come to believe that Wal-Mart has lower prices than its competitors. These mechanisms change consumer perceptions. Wal-Mart’s core competence is not retailing, it is changing attitudes: PR. I would gladly share the data and detail behind these statements with anyone who wants it. We have had some amazingly vitriolic reaction to that data, which raises the possibility that US society can no longer process valid information about Wal-Mart effectively — Wal-Mart seems to have become a lightning rod for self-identity — “Attack Wal-Mart, and you attack me.” This means that Wal-Mart’s several, profound, well-documented vices are not widely accepted. These vices reveal that of its five constituencies — customers, vendors, employees, community, and shareholders — Wal-Mart serves basically “only” the last one. The primary motive at Wal-Mart, far above all others (judging by its… Read more »
John Lansdale
Guest
John Lansdale
11 years 3 months ago

Wal-Mart just has a new, important-sounding campaign. It is probably a new way for them to gain public favor so consumers will buy more and stop fighting their new stores. Yes, as long as they pay their PR bill, we’ll be hearing that they’re making serious changes. But soon, others will copy, we’ll all get bored with “serious change” and then we’ll have to wait for another message.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

Wal-Mart has tremendous resources to spend on both PR and business (which of course cannot be separated for Wal-Mart any more than it is for other major corporations) and they have never been more open to utilizing expertise and borrowing best practices from others. Moving from Colorado to Bentonville and traveling to L.A. and New York constantly, I agree that many are unable to process information regarding Wal-Mart in an unbiased and fact-based manner…and most of those folks subscribe to the Wal-Mart-as-Evil-Empire school. To think about the irrational breaks that other retailers have gotten over the years (want business-crushing punitive practices and game-playing prices? Try department stores! Target does ANYTHING? So groovy and directional!)…and the immediate backlash that Wal-Mart gets on the heels of any publicized effort. Wonder what the numbers would look like had Wal-Mart received the same lunatic public leniency?

MARK DECKARD
Guest
MARK DECKARD
11 years 3 months ago

Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, was on Wal-Mart’s board of directors while Bill was the Democratic governor of Arkansas, then resigned just prior to Bill’s running for the presidency.

The folks at Wal-Mart have only the Arkansas Democrat Gazette for a newspaper.

Benton County (Bentonville) is practically the only Republican-dominated county in the state.

I think from Wal-Mart’s beginnings, they’ve been very comfortable working with and around those with the ideals of the Democratic party and secretly, the Dems love them. Can you imagine the state tax revenue they generate?

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
11 years 3 months ago

Wal-Mart is doing exactly the right thing for the time. And it’s not just about spending money for PR — anyone can do that. It’s about backing up the PR with real action, which I think they are trying to do.

Corporate social responsibility, ethical profitability, environmental awareness are the trends in business–hopefully sustainable ones. It’s just as important as the right merchandising strategies. Wal-Mart knows this, Leslie Dach knows this. The only ones who don’t know it are on Wall Street who are only looking for their year-end commissions.

It’s all about society and the environmental awareness on several levels. Green is the new black.

Greg Wiley
Guest
Greg Wiley
11 years 3 months ago

“We did nearly half a million price checks in 300 cities and found that for 85% of items, Wal-Mart’s prices are higher than its competitors as a group.” This is so difficult to believe, based upon 20 years of experience with this account. How did higher prices put so many vendors and competitors out of business. Wal-Mart is so big they’re virtually out of control. How can they initiate serious social impact when, like every other US corporation, quarterly profits drive everyone’s, down to the lowest level employee’s, short and long-term efforts?

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

How much of a role can Wal-Mart play as the world’s largest retailer in shaping ’’change and progress on the big challenges’’ facing society?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...