Listening is 50 percent of what makes PR important and successful. Listening is also a reactionary process and a good response is a product of good listening.
Wal-Mart is notorious for underpaying women and passing them up for promotion. When some women decided to bring a class-action lawsuit against them, the company responded by launching a 20 billion dollar PR campaign to “empower women” and in effect were able to head off any other future lawsuits. The Supreme Court blocked the class action suit and the women are now forced to make individual complaints against Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart seemed to only have “heard” women’s outpours of adulation after facing these threats and only put a band-aid on the problem by pledging billions of dollars to women’s small businesses but not addressing any internal issues of equal pay and discrimination. What would have been more effective is if they showed some initiative to speak to female employees and listen to their work experiences to try to gather more information on how to solve problems instead of throwing money around in order to garner all the positive press they received.
Wal-Mart’s faux hippie counterpart, Whole Foods “Market”, has also been criticized for it’s treatment of employees, inconsistent values and food quality. One such former employee wrote an epic resignation letter to them, addressing every grievance he and other employees are not allowed to freely and openly express. This letter and many responses have been published but no follow up or response has been released from WFM. Although the latter half of the letter in which he personally attacks that store’s employees was tactless and unnecessary, this letter was highly circulated. Many people read this word for word as well as the response letters that supported and validated his claims. This should have initiated a dialogue and a course of action between WFM, its employees and its customers. One good way of doing this would have been to open a forum on Facebook or issuing a press release responding in detail to these accusations. As of now, from personal experience and from these scathing complaints, my impression of Whole Foods is not much better then that of Wal-Mart.