Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The value of PR?

Over the last year of so Walmart has gone from being a Wall Street darling to the embodiment of everything that is bad about Big Business. Alright, so maybe I'm overstating things, but their reputation has been keeping good pace with their sinking stock price, and they seem to take every opportunity to accelerate the decline.

Case in point: Today's Wall Street Journal ran a nasty cover story on the preditory practices of healthcare providers who increasingly are suing accident victims for access to their legal damages settlements. They led with the case of woman hit by a truck who barely made it out of intensive care, and who eventually won a settlement only to be sued by... you guessed it, her employer Walmart. They wanted to recoup the $440k+ they'd paid out in insurance coverage.

Now legally, there's no doubt that Walmart and their healthcare provider have a right to the cash. But ethically, morally? And if they have no ethics, don't they think through the ramifications and cost to their business? They're approaching the retail holiday bonanza with PR that is beyond bad, that will drive off shoppers in droves, and which shows Olympic levels of business stupidity.

Given my profession it would be easy for me to label this a public relations failure, but it really isn't: This is a moral failure that has PR consequences. The Walmart spokesperson rightly stated that they have to protect the interests of all their healthcare plan members and their investors, a stock answer in every sense that displays no sense of proportion, probity, anything.

Maybe this argues for a moral dimension to PR, or is this oxymoronic (or just plain moronic) ?

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