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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Red Sox & Wal-Mart: PR or Leadership Problems

People are talking this week about “PR problems” at the Boston Red Sox and Wal-Mart's new War Room media strategy when the real problems are leadership problems.

At a press conference yesterday Theo Epstein talked to the media for 30 minutes about his resignation as General Manager of the Boston Red Sox. He never expalined the real reason for resigning, and the rumors about a the nature of the falling out between Epstein and Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino went suprsonic. Especially since Lucchino didn’t attend the press conference. (All the other Sox execs were there, including owners John Henry and Tom Werner.)

Sportswriter Bill Reynolds wrote in this morning’s Providence Journal:

You would think he (Lucchino) would have been there for no other reason than
he’s the public face of this franchise, its CEO. You think he would have been there to send out the message he wishes things could have been resolved, that he wishes Theo well, blah, blah, blah, the new spin. You would think he would have begun the first day of damage control, both to his image and the perception that the Red Sox are going to be fine, that the organization is strong enough to withstand the loss of anyone, Epstein ncluded.

Lucchino’s absence and the way the Epstein contract negotiations were handled tell you there are bigger leadership problems.

A front page story in Tuesday’s New York Times,A New Weapon for Wal-Mart: A War Room/Retailer Tries Political Tactics to Help Image,” talked about how the retailer is taking a page from the political playbook to try to sell a better image to the public.

No PR tactic – or even the best political strategists – can help a company with weak leadership. And Wal-Mart is flip flopping all over the place.

Last week The New York Times also reported on a leaked Wal-Mart memo discussing the company’s strategy for selling its new employee healthcare plans to the public. The memo said the company is testing the plan’s proposed changes “to determine whether these investments would effectively ‘move the needle’ on Wal-Mart’s public reputation.”

Here’s what Wal-Mart should do to move the needle:

  1. Get with the most innovative health care reformers in the country and develop a plan that’s good for employees and doesn’t break the company’s back (as is GM’s employee/retiree health benefits).
  2. Take its huge PR budget and at least half of its advertising budget and use that to fund employee healthcare.

    Poor management begets poor reputation. PR has nothing to do with it.

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