Even the mighty need a little love…

Wal-Mart is holding a media conference — not about a particular subject or incident. Just ’cause.

The retailer has taken a number of hits in the media over the years, but has always taken the philosophy that as long as we’re growing, why risk it? Well — here’s why:

“Despite Wal-Mart’s negative image, throngs of customers keep shopping at its stores, but that could change, image experts said.

‘Any retailer has to be cautious about consumers’ opinions of their business ethics and practices,’ said Howard Rubenstein, president of Rubenstein Associates, a New York-based public relations firm.”

The 50 or so journalists who are expected to make the trip to Arkansas to attend will have plenty of past fodder on which to chew… and Wal-Mart can ill afford to play around with the responses.

“They need to persuade people they are bigger than people’s attitudes toward them,” said Clarke Caywood, professor of public relations at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

My guess is the Bentonville marketing machine knows how to use Google News, and they are well aware of what will be asked. There could even be an advantage in being able to prepare for everything, because the press will have to as well. But a hungry press could stir a frenzy now that there’s blood in the water.

“This is clearly by Wal-Mart’s own admission a damage control tour,” said Christy Setzer, a spokeswoman at the AFL-CIO, whose United Food and Commercial Workers Union is trying to organize workers at some Wal-Mart stores. “They are aware of a growing chorus of community leaders, environmentalists and religious leaders, who are saying that Wal-Mart’s values are not our values. And they need to respond to this. It is telling that they would rather spend millions of dollars on PR efforts than to change their business practices.

The irony here is that the company does have some decent things going on within its various communities, in terms of charitable involvement and corporate citizenry. But there hasn’t been a comprehensive strategy to capitalize on that as an antidote to the anti-Wal-mart sentiment.

If I can find a transcript of the newser, it might be fun to pick apart the answers.

Anyone interested?