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Wal-mart PR Executive Discusses Growth of Company's External Communications Strategies

By Margaux Kay LaPointe, '11

The Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) invited Steven Restivo, director of corporate affairs for Wal-mart in the Northeast Region, to campus on Thursday, Nov. 13. He discussed Wal-mart’s communication and business strategy evolution.

Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-mart, was focused on in-store relations. Restivo explained that the goal was to “focus on costumers, always, absolutely.” Because of the policy, Walmart had little external communication but was still able to manage business success.

Recently, Wal-mart has been the focus of many critics. Restivo said that critics often disseminate misinformation about the company, but for some time received no response from Wal-mart because of Walton’s external communication policy. Critics began to tell Wal-mart’s story, explained Restivo, and this was a problem. To manage Wal-mart’s reputation, the company began to utilize public relations.

One of Wal-mart’s new goals is to be proactive. For example, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Wal-mart sent 13 trucks of necessities within two days. Wal-mart strives to “be this best company everyday.”

Wal-mart has three strategies for public relations. To provide information and response, the company runs a hotline that answers media calls – about 500 to 700 calls each week – as well as Secondly, the company manages public affairs and government relations. Finally, to promote the business, Wal-mart tells stories, Restivo said.

These stories are focused on the four pillars: health care, sustainability, opportunity, and community. This has included $4 generic drugs and contributions to local charities, as Restivo explained that Wal-mart is the “largest corporate cash contributor to charities.” Further, these stories tell facts. Wal-mart saves families $2,500 per year, according to Restivo, and “three quarters of store management teams started as hourly associates.”

Restivo concluded by explaining that although Wal-mart has a public relations strategy, it is still focused on individuals. The company uses its “greatest asset, employees,” said Restivo. “Corporate decisions have PR benefit but are not PR driven.” The mission of Wal-mart: Save money. Live better. It is simply a bonus that this is also a public relations talking point.

Margaux Kay LaPointe, ’11, is a sophomore from Lebanon, Pa. She is an intern in the Office of Communications in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Villanova University. Margaux is majoring in communication with a specialization in public relations.

Media Contact

Jennifer Schu

Director of Communications, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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