Wal-Mart loses reputation manager and pro communicator

Wal-Mart, a major player in CSR communication, will soon bid farewell to its corporate reputation expert. Wal-Mart recently announced Vice President of Corporate Affairs Leslie A. Dach will leave the company in June.

According to Bloomberg, Dach oversaw public policy, government relations, corporate communications and sustainability initiatives since joining the company in 2006. As such, CSR was a major part of Dach’s legacy. He sought to improve the company’s corporate image through environmental and anti-obesity initiatives. An internal memo announcing his leave states, “We have broken new ground in areas like sustainability, women’s economic empowerment and hunger and nutrition.”

Indeed, his work seemed to make an impact. YouGov’s BrandIndex measures whether people have heard positive or negative things about a company, ranging from negative 100 to positive 100. According to The New York Times, Wal-Mart’s score rose from a negative 5 in 2007 to 20 in 2009.

Even critics of the organization noted Dach’s positive impact. The company “became much more adept at constructing a public image that would appeal to liberal audiences after he came on board” according to Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which reportedly opposes many of Wal-Mart’s policies.

Dach says his leave has nothing to do with recent company woes. (It’s possible he was tired of his long commute – more than one thousand miles from his home in D.C. to corporate headquarters in Arkansas.) However, the move comes at a time when many businesses are choosing not to integrate CSR messaging in their public relations strategies. A Grayling Pulse survey found that only one quarter of organizations with a corporate social responsibility strategy are integrating it into their corporate communications strategy.

Dach had a background in both public relations and politics. Before working at Wal-Mart, Dach was the vice chairman of Edelman, helping run the CSR consulting division. Under Dach’s lead, the company supported President Obama’s individual mandate in health coverage. Wal-Mart also courted the support of the first lady when announcing a new commitment to healthy foods and fresh produce in 2011.

Despite the results of the Grayling Pulse survey, it is a fair assumption that Wal-Mart will be a leader, and not a follower, in CSR communication. However, it will be interesting to see if Wal-Mart’s next reputation management executive takes a similar communications-based approach to CSR.

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