PR gaffe burns Wal-Mart PR director and agency

Daily Telegraph: The Wal-Mart publicity manager behind an advert that equated the retail giant to victims of the Nazis has resigned. Peter Kanelos, who had overseen public relations in Arizona and southern California on behalf of Wal-Mart, left his job yesterday, a few weeks after the company apologised for its PR gaffe.

And what a PR gaffe! This story in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph said that Kanelos is understood to have been responsible for a full-page ad in the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff, Arizona, on 8 May that featured an historic photo from the Nazi Germany era that showed Nazi supporters throwing books into a large fire.

According to the Telegraph’s report, the text read: “Should we let government tell us what we can read? Of course not. So why should we allow local government to limit where we can shop?” The ad was taken out by Protect Flagstaff’s Future, a lobby group financed by Wal-Mart that was fighting proposals that would limit large superstores in the Arizona city.

Another casualty of this PR gaffe is Highground, the PR and lobbying firm based in Phoenix, who created the ad. The Telegraph story quoted Wal-Mart saying it was “no longer working with HighGround.”

I really can’t imagine why anyone would think to use anything associated with Germany’s Nazi era in advertising. Quite a bit of chat (and some strong anti-Wal-Mart opinions) around the blogosphere.

It’s another blunder by Wal-Mart, the Telegraph said, which has been struggling to clean up its image in the face of criticism of its labour practices and effects on local communities. It was forced to take out a second ad apologizing to Flagstaff residents for the first one.

One thought on “PR gaffe burns Wal-Mart PR director and agency

  1. As a literature major (Spanish) in college I was often asked by business and engineering students, “what are you going to do with that?”
    I came upon an answer that still serves me today, to wit: besides receiving great personal enjoyment, in studying literature you learn that there exist people who specialize in making effective, startling and even marvelous similies and metaphors.
    It is discouraging that nobody at WalMart caught the awfulness of comparing a concerned community group with nazi thugs. It is discouraging that nobody at the Highround PR firm had the minimum literary imagination to see that such a comparison is idiotic.
    There is a practical side to studying great poetry and literature. The student gets to see “metaphor management” in practice.
    This incident illustrates the limits of straight-on vocational education. I’m sure they studied statistics and marketing but probably not Flaubert. The PR guys couldn’t waste time on Proust or Tolstoy – they were busy taking classes in communications.

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