Wal-Mart’s Blue State Spinmeister
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?
- Wal-Mart’s $3 Million Man: Leslie Dach – AdAge.com (free reg. required)
- Leslie Dach joins Wal-Mart as Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Government Relations
– Wal-Mart Stores