Wal-Mart Corp. Steps Up Charm Offensive to Pitch Walmart to New Yorkers

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With a New York City Council meeting on Feb. 3rd to review its application to open its first Walmart store in New York City, the marketers at Wal-Mart are laying on the charm. In addition to launching WalmartNYC.com as the focus of its community outreach, it’s using video spots and direct mail targeting Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens residents. But the hub of its efforts is really online.

“What this site really does is provide the opportunity to advocate for the company, laying out some facts about our business and some testimonials from real customers,” commented Steven Restivo, a Wal-Mart spokesman, to the New York Times.  “It’s a great clearinghouse of information.” The Times finds the website (tag line: “Helping N.Y.C. Save Money and Live Better”) a politically shrewd piece of lobbying.[more]

The newspaper comments that the retailer’s NYC website

has more in common with the Internet face of a politician running for office than a retail chain encouraging shoppers to drop by between the hours of 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. There is a photo gallery, a newsroom and a  “what others are saying” section that includes shout-outs from a construction union, a spokesman for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and an average citizen, John Bond of Fairfield, N.J., a town only about 20 miles outside New York City.”

The company plans to use Wal-Mart New York City to play defense, pushing back on claims made by its detractors, and it will also be used for offense.  Visitors can register with the site, leaving their name and address with the company, creating a pool of supporters Wal-Mart can call on in different parts of the city. “We’ve become more serious about evaluating opportunities, and we’ve gotten more proactive in defending our reputation,” Mr. Restivo said.

TV and online spots, meanwhile, are pitching the retail giant as sympathetic to the community. In the spot above, “Representatives from ACCION USA, a New York-based group that has assisted 13,000 small businesses with loans, talk about their partnership with Walmart and the impact Walmart has had on the businesses it serves.”[more]

Another (now-private) spot on its Walmart Community YouTube channel played to residents lacking medical insurance. Its description read: “Meet Anna Swanson, a TV host in Brooklyn who utilizes Walmart’s $4 generic prescription drug benefit to help keep her costs down. Anna, who travels nearly 3 hours round trip to visit her closest Walmart, discusses what a Walmart in New York City would mean to her.” Indeed, Swanson’s personal blog highlights her concerns about breast cancer.

The New York Daily News notes that Wal-Mart skipped a City Council hearing on its NYC plans today as it prepares for Feb. 3rd. It’s still shoring up support as it attempts to defuse some vocal opposition.

New York City Council members such as Charles Barron are campaigning to keep NYC a “Wal-Mart-Free Zone” — despite Wal-Mart’s survey showing that 76% of Brooklyn residents, for example, aren’t opposed to a Walmart in their community.

Now, Wal-Mart is hoping that its web-focused local lobbying helps clinch the deal — echoing earlier successful campaigns to bring its stores to Chicago and Washington.

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