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Wal-Mart launches P.R. blitz


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Wolf Blitzer Reports

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Wal-Mart's critics are vocal.

But the world's biggest retailer has largely been silent about protests over plans for its super-size centers, the percentage of its goods made overseas or the way it treats its more than 1.2 million workers.

But now the retailer known for cutting costs is spending money on repairing its image. In full-page ads across the country and in rare on-camera interviews, Wal-Mart's Chief Executive Lee Scott says Wal-Mart is good for the economy. The company expects to create more than 100,000 new jobs in the United States this year and Lee Scott says Mal-Mart is good to the people it hires.

"If you don't want us in your community, let's be honest about why you don't want us. Don't say it's about our wages cause the facts are the wages are good. Don't say it's about our benefits, cause the facts are we have benefits. Don't say it's about dead-end jobs, because the truth is we promoted 90,000 people out of hourly positions to management," says Scott.

Wal-Mart's new push coincides with organized labor's own plans to launch a media campaign that tells a different story about America's largest private employer.

"Wal-Mart says they offer health benefits. They do, but most of the employees can't afford them. They do pay more than the minimum wage, but they still pay less than would keep a family of three or four out of poverty. So it's a public relations attempt to cover up a very disturbing reality," says Mark Levinson of Unite Here.

But shoppers find the savings irresistible. Sales in 2003 were nearly $245 billion -- nearly three times the amount of Target and Costco combined.

But Wal-Mart stumbled briefly early in the holiday season when it was beaten at its own game by a competitor, which slashed prices more aggressively.

Management says it won't make that mistake again.

"It is time for us to become more aggressive when it comes to taking care of our customers, our merchandising, pricing and all of these things. I think we have an opportunity this year this is part of it," says Scott.

Wal-Mart wants the world to know its softer side when it comes to employees, but it says it will remain just as fierce when it comes to the competition.


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