Walmart Is Mad At The Consumerist

Earlier this summer, we did an interview with the No Respect! podcast. They asked us about The Consumerist in general and Walmart in particular. Especially of interest was our meeting with Mike Krempasksy (above, center, tie), who runs the Walmart blog war team at Edelman PR. After a series of disapariging posts, Mike wanted to meet up with us for drinks. He opened the meeting with, “This is all off the record.” The next thing out of his mouth was, “What can we do to get you to stop writing about our companies?” You can hear more about it in this episode of the No Respect! podcast.

We didn’t tell you about this fateful meeting until now because one, we had agreed not to, but more importantly, we wanted to play it out and see what happened with Edelman. Not much did, we never did get that exclusive behind the scenes factory tour to see where they convert undocumented immigrant workers into budget home furnishings. We did, however, exchange a series of bitchy emails with Mike Krempasky. For instance, after the jump, what he said today after he saw this podcast go up…

UPDATE: Mike rebutts and we retort.

Subject: Ben, a quick follow up
From: “Krempasky, Michael”
Date: 12:31 PM
To: tips@consumerist.com

I remain impressed with your professionalism, although I now consider myself well educated about your perspective on the notion of an informal and off the record conversation.

Cheers and good luck.

From: Ben Popken [mailto:tips@consumerist.com]
Sent: Wed 9/27/2006 12:36 PM
To: Krempasky, Michael
Subject: Re: Ben, a quick follow up

What development is this in reference to?

Subject: RE: Ben, a quick follow up
From: “Krempasky, Michael”
Date: 12:37 PM
To: tips@consumerist.com

Love the podcast.

From: Ben Popken [mailto:tips@consumerist.com]
Sent: Wed 9/27/2006 12:41 PM
To: Krempasky, Michael
Subject: Re: Ben, a quick follow up

Maybe Edelman can make a podcast on how restricting the free expression of information contributes to a healthy republic.

Subject: RE: Ben, a quick follow up
From: “Krempasky, Michael”
Date: 12:41 PM
To: tips@consumerist.com

Hmm, what a fascinating perspective. Here I thought it was a question of courtesy and professionalism, not to mention committment.

Subject: Re: Ben, a quick follow up
From: Ben Popken
Date: 1:02 PM
To: Krempasky, Michael

Guess I have better things to do.


Now that we’ve outed this, guess we’re going to have to tell you about Walmart’s trikes for tots program they made based off a comment in one of our posts. A more blatant attempt to be nice, we’ve never seen. And that time we and Mike laughed about the Dead or Alive video. Ah, good times.

UPDATE: Mike rebutts and we retort.

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. GenXCub says:

    Maybe I’m not getting this. You didn’t release the podcast, yet they’re miffed with consumerist?

  2. okay, this guy is waaay too self righteous to be working for a sleazy op like walmart. and look at those compound sentences(!)- he doesn’t fit in there at all.

    was he wearing a blue vest for this meeting, or is that confidential and off the record?

  3. “What can we do to get you to stop writing about our companies?”

    I sincerely hope this was accompanied by a briefcase being slid across the table. You know, bursting with those packets of hundred dollar bills.

  4. imoutthere says:

    Answer: Tattletales and PR schmucks.
    Question: What makes the sound of two fingers wagging?

    imoutthere

  5. Gina Trapani says:

    Isn’t Edelman Steve Rubel‘s company? Yikes. I would’ve expected a lot more.

  6. Codefox says:

    I don’t suppose they ever considered just doing the right thing as a way to not be written about? When exactly are companies going to figure out the best way to look good is not do anything to look bad?

  7. RumorsDaily says:

    “What can we do to get you to stop writing about our companies?”

    Stop angering customers?

  8. mechanismatic says:

    “What can we do to get you to stop writing about our companies?”

    Get your employees off of state-sponsored medical aid and welfare?

  9. Ben Popken says:

    @ GenX: No, he’s miffed that I disclosed our conversation in the podcast interview.

    @ Dave: If memory serves, he was wearing a grayish blazer with matching pants.

    @ Gina: Yes.

  10. GenXCub says:

    Personally, I don’t see their right to be mad… the podcast is geared at people who are already irretrievably pissed at WalMart. It’s not like any PR is going to sway them the other way. It’s not like you came on here and created keyword “walmart has doo doo in their souls”

  11. RandomHookup says:

    Be careful. They will start up a cheaper consumer blog across town staffed by Pakistani and Filipino writers and run you guys out of business by publishing only happy news.

  12. mark duffy says:

    BRING IT POPPY!!!

  13. Nottma says:

    What a PR boost this is for Consumerist. Even Walmart fears the site. Eventually they will be hiring zombies to comment on how great Walmart is.

  14. Smoking Pope says:

    Wait. I’m confused. (Mostly due to the fact that I can’t get at the podcast right now, but some of it due to pharmacological intake in my college years.)

    Ben, did you just mention the existence of the off the record conversation? Or did you go into details?

  15. Trae says:

    Oh gee, you are so mean to Walmart. You should so totally start being nice to them. Walmart is great, and so completely not evil. Really. I mean it.

    (Okay, so where’s my fifty bucks…)

  16. Ben Popken says:

    In addition to the conversation’s existence, I mentioned these details:

    * Mike wanted it off the record
    * Mike asked what they could do to get me to stop writing about their companies.

    And that’s about it.

  17. GenXCub says:

    That just boggles me. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a PR company asking what can be done to stop writing about the companies as long as you have some criteria (1. stop being corporate assclowns, etc.) so, again, I wonder at why he took offense. Surely, advertising that Walmart is engaging its critics isn’t bad by itself (the tactics would be the sticky point)

  18. DamnSkippy says:

    It’s sort of ironic that Mike appears to be sitting at a poker table in the above picture — I guess you called his bluff, huh?

  19. AcidReign says:

    …..It’s so funny! Walmart could have SO turned that meeting to its advantage, by simply asking Ben for a list of grievances, smiling, and promising to look into it! Instead, they turn into a threatening/blackmailey, secretive sort of thing.

    …..Just the appearance of goodwill is worth a ton in corporate relations! Imagine the corporate benefits if they subsequently produced a “locked-in baby” policy, and publically/generously solved a handful of consumer grievances… They seem willing to just piss it away. Arrogance does not sell, but they do have low prices, and that will sell every time. Damn it.

  20. bambino says:

    he simply looks like a douche.

  21. Lesley says:
  22. Ben, thanks for the post. But lets be clear on a couple points.

    * I asked for, and you agreed to, a candid and private conversation about a number of different topics, one of which was Wal-Mart, another was Edelman. I didn’t declare that it was off the record, I asked you. Quite the difference.

    * Despite your characterization of the conversation, the main substance as reflected in my notes was my very direct offer to help your readers resolve consumer problems with any of my clients. Bloggers and blog readers ought to matter to companies, and too many businesses wait for their customers to come complaining instead of proactively trying to fix problems. At the time you expressed that you’d be interested in that. But you never took advantage of that opportunity.

    * I made the trip to Brooklyn to meet you for a drink because, among other things, I’m a fan of the consumerist. It’s a well-written and entertaining blog. But it appears I misunderstood your interest in actually helping your readers (and, frankly, helping the businesses they frequent to do a better job) but instead just drive up the sitemeter hits.

    And as far as this post – well, I’ll leave it to others to judge its veracity, considering you’re entirely comfortable with having made a committment and then ignored it.

    Again, cheers and good luck.

  23. yumyum says:

    Who the heck let him in?

  24. homerjay says:

    Can’t we all just get along?
    Hmmm, apparently not. WalMart always wants to play alone.

  25. GenXCub says:

    Anyone can post now, you don’t need the commenter invite. I say let him in. As far as I’m concerned, if I know that he can read our grievances and is willing to actively talk to us about them, that’s a hell of an opportunity. At least then, if nothing happens, we can go back to being our usual indignant selves.

  26. GenXClub, that offer’s still on the table to the best of my ability. But at the same time, I’ll be a lot more wary of corresponding with the consumerist. I’d rather help solve problems than score points.

  27. Bokonon says:

    Mr. Krempasky is a right-wing hack, with connections to all sorts of right-wing attack campaigns. I guess when they’re directed at him, he wimps out.

    http://demopedia.democraticunderground.com/index.php/Mike_

  28. GenXCub says:

    Perhaps Popken and Brownlee will want to do a weekly post on this. They’re always in need of posts, if some sort of back and forth occurs in this space (being a somewhate neutral site), I could see it having a lot of credibility as far as public discourse. I’ve posted way too much on this one, I’ll let John and Ben go from here.

  29. MattyMatt says:

    Ben, I think that since you allowed Mike to think that the conversation would be kept in confidence, it’s weird that you told people about it. You could’ve said, “No, I don’t do anything off the record,” or “I won’t keep this conversation a secret, but I will credit you anonymously,” which reporters sometimes do. So, you kind of got him talk under false pretenses. That his words were significant and revealing makes it a little harder to frown on what you did.

    Then again, if Mike really knew how blogs work, he would have simply laughed at the idea that anything he said would be kept off the record.

  30. Joe Clark says:

    A conversation is not off the record until *all parties* agree it is. One side’s peremptory declaration that a conversation is off the record does not make it so. It has to be agreed– up front, not retroactively, and there can be limits, including a list of topics that can be published and a time limit.

    Exactly what did you “agree not to” publish?

    My advice, such as it is, would be never *ever* to offer a PR agency off-the-record status. At all.

  31. Mr. Gunn says:

    Everybody – Can we knock off all this stupid @Retard crap?

    They do it over at Lifehacker too, and it’s just so retarded looking. What purpose does the @ symbol serve that simply writing the person’s name with a dash or colon after it doesn’t? Best case scenario, there would be a quote button on every comment that would enter their name in the comment box, hyperlinked to the entry, but failing that, just leave out the damn @ symbol.

    “Why yes! I do enjoy tilting at windmills, why do you ask?”

  32. schmorsepower says:

    Why, exactly, is his political affiliation relevant here?

  33. rubyfoos says:

    This asshole slimeball should be fired. Edelman is a fucking joke and all their butt-smelling around the rim of Web 2.0 that Rubel licks up is just an act, a slick attempt at “good PR” – ha! Telling a consumer advocate blogger that a comment like “What can we do to get you to stop writing about our companies?” is like asking for immunity from the D.A. and then dropping the bomb that you killed three cops. It doesn’t play like that homey. He should be canned for his stupidity alone.

    AND FUCK WAL-MART. Their exploitation practices are racist and a violation of basic human rights.

  34. danielnicolas says:

    Honestly, – for a company that is as big as Wal-Mart is, I don’t think having their problems swept under the rug by people that are high up enough to make things happen- that doesn’t solve anything.

    Mike – you can solve people’s problems by proposing and pushing companies to change their actual output – not just policies – on the issues people have having.

    Also: Off the Record gives a clear message: “I’m not transparent, I don’t want to and/or can’t be honest with you, so let’s pretend you’re not talking to me.”

    Essentially, this is where you would actually turn on the tape recorder – this is where the person is actually going to talk and answer questions honestly.

    So while it may appear to have been a little rude, I think the outcome is the least of what could have happened. Were I you, I would try to smooth this over, and not make a big deal out of it. Try and put positive spin on what could have been a terrible breach in the facade you appear to have painted.

  35. MichelleMyBelle says:

    Re Mike Krempasky’s three point post above:
    I was somewhat sympathetic to his reply to your blog entry. His three points seemed to be pretty well made, until I got to the very end: “Again, cheers and good luck.” Maybe its just me, but that sounds a lot like, “You’re of no importantance compared to us, now f*** off.”
    I wonder if, “Cheers and good luck,” is the standard response to customer issues at Walmart, too?

  36. Smashville says:

    Mike seems to be under the false impression that by saying something is “off the record” actually means something. I was taught in journalism school that there is no such thing as “off the record”.

  37. SantosHalper says:

    He opened the meeting with, “This is all off the record.” The next thing out of his mouth was, “What can we do to get you to stop writing about our companies?”

    I think the more interesting question is, what was the next thing out of your mouth? If you said, “sure Mike, that’s fine with me”, then you’re an unprofessional douche. Then again, you’re a blog editor, not a newspaper reporter. It will probably take a few more years for PR people to completely graps the difference.

  38. Liam McNulty says:

    I wasn’t there, obviously, but it does seem somewhat underhanded on Consumerist’s part if the conversation did indeed take place as stated.

    If the Consumerist had planned on publicizing what the other party requested would be off the record, there’s an amount of responsibility that falls on their shoulders — the responsibility to respond by saying something like “wait a sec,” or “no, this is on the record.”

    Obviously the other party should have confirmed your cooperation before saying something like “What can we do to get you to stop writing about our companies,” but the point is that the Consumerist LET him continue under the impression that it was indeed off the record.

    Even if we go with the Consumerist’s version of the story instead of Mike’s (which indicates he asked you rather than told), there’s still a small amount of responsibility on Consumerist’s part to respond to what he said.

  39. schmorsepower says:

    Yeah, note that Consumerist is careful to say what “the next thing out of his mouth was,” and not to say that he said it immediately after the “off the record” statement, or that nobody else said anything after the “off the record” remark — like “O.K. It’s off the record.”

    And does Consumerist deny that the conversation was off the record by agreement?

  40. Ben DovernDover says:

    @Gina

    Thanks for the best laugh of the day. It’s Oz-like.

  41. Ben Popken says:

    To make it easy if you’re only following this post, here is our point by point response, also posted here:

    * Nope, you didn’t ask, you declared. We said, “Ok.” Now we’re saying, “not ok.”

    * Why should it be our responsibility to drop the complaints in your lap? They’re right there on the blog. You already watch us with the Nielsen BuzzMetrics corporate grade blog-monitoring site. What prevented Edelman from stepping up on any number of the complaints we’ve posted about your clients, like Walmart and Starbucks? Where were you with the Boiled Walmart Baby? The withdrawn Starbucks coupon? The opportunity lost is yours, friend.

    * You made a trip out to Brooklyn only after your employee, Chris Abraham, made a series of blunders in approaching us. We help out our readers by publishing their complaints and, when warranted, following up leads. Our duty is to the story, not to do your job for you.

    * The morality of reneging on a committment to a PR flack… sounds like the basis for a good piece of sketch comedy.

  42. raincoaster says:

    All conversations with journalists are only off the record until they decide they can afford to burn you; doesn’t everyone know this by now?

    And disclosing that a source asked for a conversation to be off the record is not, itself, a violation of that confidence. Spilling the contents of the subsequent convo on a podcast is, though.

    But burning Wal-Mart? Hell, I’d do it just for the recreational value.

  43. bradnh says:

    I love this blog; it’s funny, entertaining, and I generally find myself in moral agreement with its perspective. So the irony of the fact that this is the very first time I’ve felt the need to post is not lost on me. Here are my specific problems:
    >
    Nope, you didn’t ask, you declared. We said, “Ok.” Now we’re saying, “not ok.”

    Hmmm. Whether he “asked” or “declared,” you assented. Now you’ve decided “not ok.” What changed? How would you respond to a company that treated you or your readers that way?

    My next problem, and then I promise to go away:

    > The morality of reneging on a committment to a PR flack… sounds like the basis for a good piece of sketch comedy.

    Now you’re really losing me. When you have to fall back on an ad hominem argument to make your point, it sounds defensive and self-serving. You had no problem having the drink with the “PR flack” or making an agreement (tacit or otherwise)to keep the conversation confidential. But now you’re essentially saying, “Come on, you can’t be serious; he’s in PR.”

    I think you guys are great; that’s why I’m writing. This conduct is unworthy of you.

  44. AcidReign says:

    …..I am not wealthy, and I do admit to buying groceries at Walmart. They just kill everyone else on price. It’s crowded, sure. But in my opinion, it’s a free enterprise thing. Propping up less profitable operations with government regulations is never good for anyone. Fact is, everywhere Walmart opens up, people line up for blocks to get hired. At least in Alabama, where I have experience.

    …..I have to laugh at Mr. Krempasky’s indignation. Surely you realize that there are no real confidential conversations with the media? And why would you bother? Personally, I think that there’s nothing wrong with asking an outlet what it would take for them to lay off. What was revealed that was so evil?

    …..I didn’t observe any boiled babies at the Beal Ft. Walton last week, but I did suffer through a huge near-hour wait in the checkout line. Half the registers closed on a Saturday night? Help us, please! While buying my beach groceries, I missed nearly the entire Florida-Tennessee game. Not to mention the risk of possible ecoli in my spring mix developing while everything heated up in line…

    …..I’d also mention, if Mr. Krempasky is still listening, that the the Walmart on Lakeshore Parkway in Birmingham is pretty well run. You’ve got a lot of great folks working there, and the management is superb. Give ‘em some props!

  45. Trai_Dep says:

    LOVE how Republicans are indiscreet when meeting w/ reporters then blame reporters for THEIR not getting an iron-clad commitment.

    Hey PR guy – either meet with the press and take your chances, or don’t meet with them and get fired. “Background”? For consumer PR?! Are you high?

    Oh, hey, Krempasky is associated w/ Joe Gannon? The male prostitute/White House flack? Ben, did he try flashing a bit of shapely thigh at you? Show off his ripped abs? Do TELL!! ;p

  46. homerjay says:

    Don’t write when you can speak, don’t speak when you can nod, don’t nod when you can wink.
    Assume NOTHING is EVER off the record when talking to the press. Especially when you work for a company with a huge target on your back.


    Ben did what he had to do. Krempasky should have been more careful about what he said.

  47. Triteon says:

    Politics should have nothing to do with this discussion, right or left.

  48. Jack_Ruby says:

    Why is anyone up in arms about this? Mike, you are a paid hack of the Wal-Mart Corporation, not Joe Schmo who might lose his job for talking to the media; your job IS talking to the media. Ben did what he felt was right, and on balance I agree. Given the choice of honoring an agreement with a PR Hack and not revealing the PR hack’s somewhat sleazy sounding offer and revealing said conversation to show sleaziness of Wally world’s PR team, I’d go with revealing to the world Wally’s PR sleaze.
    Don’t forget a blogger isn’t a regular journalist. He hasn’t taken any ethical oaths and doesn’t need your insider information for ‘scoops’ down the road.

    Now, onto Wal-Mart itself:
    Wal-Mart is not as terrible as everyone seems to think it is. It is also far more hideous than anyone could possibly imagine.
    For the first part, Wal-Mart doesn’t hire illegal immigrants, doesn’t pay workers minimum wage, does provide health insurance, and does provide much needed jobs.
    For the second part, Wal-Mart doesn’t support the community in a real way, pay workers a substandard wage, and provides insurance that is sub par for the world’s biggest retailer.
    Wal-Mart is poorly run, poorly managed, and relies on predatory pricing to keep itself in business.

    THE ONLY THING WALMART HAS IS LOWER PRICES.
    But that is enough in places like upstate SC that were hit very hard by the textile businesses leaving the area. Wal-Mart replaced high paying factory jobs with low paying retail jobs.
    Wal-Mart actively does its best to close down other stores, and they grow in a manner that most of us find unconscionable, leaving many empty store husks in their wake.
    In short Wal-Mart isn’t a problem in and of itself. Wal-Mart is a symptom of a consumerist culture run amok.

    We have seen the enemy and Wal-Mart is US.

    And those comments are from someone who worked at Wal-Mart (#644) for 2.5 years, and actually enjoyed it (sometimes).

  49. Trai_Dep says:

    Triteon -

    Politics per se, I agree. But if it goes to the slime’s moral (cough) character, then it’s fair game. Associating with GOPUSA, the Florida “riots” Joe Gannon (gay male prostitute and WH pressroom flack!) and other shennanigans, then it’s valid. It casts doubts on his sincerity and truthfulness.

    If a PR flack had a past association with Mao’s Red Guards (same tactics, same goals, other side of the spectrum), I’d cite that as well.

    Left, Right, who cares, here. History of deceit, it’s relevent. It makes me trust Ben’s version of events more than Krempatsy’s.

  50. Transuranic says:

    BradNH, I defend Popken’s actions here.

    First- the say-one-thing, do-another trick pulled multiple times by PR flacks before consumer advocates did it here. There are cheaters on every system, and you need methods to weed them out. Think of it as “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” – consumers always play ‘cooperate’, expecting companies to do the same. But companies will defect if they can. Popken simply bolstered his position in the arms race.

    Second – there can be, nearly by definition no ‘ad hominem’ attack on a PR person. Krem-bloviate-ski (isn’t that you speel it, GenxClub?) himself was not attacked; his profession was. (A profession whose sole purpose is to skew you away from your natural opinion, I might add, if I hadn’t already spent way too much time here.)

    Popken rocks the socks like bagels and lox.

  51. Adam B. says:

    Nope, you didn’t ask, you declared. We said, “Ok.” Now we’re saying, “not ok.”

    That’s not exactly how “off the record” works.

    For what it’s worth, in the political realm, on behalf of a number of leading lefty blogs I worked directly with Mike to defeat some rather nasty efforts to regulate political speech online. Mike’s politics are (IMHO) wrong, but he’s an honorable and decent guy, and you can’t renege on an agreement to speak off the record.

  52. rdesai says:

    Consumerist has an obligation to its readers (American consumers) that trumps anything else. Despite saying something is “off the record”, when whatever it is that is “off the record” has to do with information that is important to a party you represent (in this case, Consumerist represents consumers), it’s the person doing all the “off the record” talking that needs to be wary.

    That’s what consumer advocacy is supposed to be about. That’s the way it needs to be and I think it’s valuable for everyone, especially consumers, to better understand the economics of information, how information flows and to question the source of information.

    Just my $0.02.

  53. clyderay8 says:

    I am veghead51@hotmail.com how do I find out what my membership number is

  54. nedwilliams says:

    Hey; interesting discussion, referenced at brandchannel.com.

    I think you guys owe it to “your readers” to let us know EVERYone you meet with privately related to your work as a “consumer advocate.” Seems relevant to what you say about people/companies to know how said people/companies grease things.

    And based on what you’ve said, and what Krempasky does, I doubt that he barreled into the purported smoking-gun-comment without getting your assent. If he did get your assent, then your character is lacking. If he said what he did, then I think his character is lacking. But to the Left (hey DU folks!) two wrongs do make a right and the end justifies the means and all’s fair in love and war and politics, right?

  55. “Nothing is off the record.”

    This was a giant slide in a media spokesperson training course from my agency days. Most of the time, if a journalist or blogger agrees to an off-the-record conversation, it’s off the record. But never assume that a blogger will take that commitment to the grave.

    Michael has every right to be mad, but he should have been smarter. Assume everything is on the record, and you’ll never end up looking stupid.

  56. SpecialEd says:

    “The morality of reneging on a committment to a PR flack… sounds like the basis for a good piece of sketch comedy.”

    Nope, you didn’t ask, you declared. We said, “Ok.” Now we’re saying, “not ok.”
    ———

    Morality on a sliding scale is a very slippery slope and probably not conducive to running a blog based on people believing that you are telling the truth and giving them the straight story. Honesty doesn’t have anything to do with the person you are speaking to. Your honesty is all about you.


    Did you steal his wallet too? Or beat him up? Why not? He’s just a PR flack.