In a story today on Gawker an employee of LA-based Mercury Public Affairs, a firm retained by Walmart, was exposed as a poser who infiltrated local labor group meetings by identifying herself as a reporter. Stephanie Harnett allegedly tried to get the inside scoop on behalf of her client, which is trying to open a store in LA’s Chinatown area. We all know Walmart has been in the news recently for its alleged role in some other not-so-ethical issues in Mexico where the chain is looking to expand its presence. With such a high profile reputational blunder having just been made, I’m sure you’re wondering, as am I, just how much of this story is true and if it is, how the company could allow this to happen on its watch.
Well, according to the updates on Gawker, Walmart is blaming Mercury saying they did not authorize the scheme and the PR firm is taking full responsibility by pointing the finger at Ms. Harnett who was described by one managing director as a “junior member of our team who made an immature decision." Somehow, I’m having a tough time believing that Ms. Harnett came up with this little scheme all by herself. My disbelief aside, Mercury later confirmed to Gawker that Ms. Harnett had in fact been fired.
Unfortunately, this story further perpetuates the negative perception that many have of the PR industry and it doesn’t do much for Walmart’s brand as their corporate ethics have continued to be called into question. That being said, what continues to bother me is the nagging feeling that Stephanie Harnett is being thrown under the cart so Walmart can save face.
I’d be curious to hear your thoughts. Please share in the comments.