As a former counselor to President George W. Bush and head of the White House press office, Dan Bartlett is no stranger to high-pressure situations that demand quick and decisive actions.
But as chief communicator and leader of more than 300 PR pros at the largest company in the world, his current role entails no waning in the importance of his counsel.
Bartlett, who joined Wal-Mart from a senior agency role at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, is a key adviser to the retail behemoth’s youthful CEO Doug McMillon and is playing a significant role in Wal-Mart’s mission to reimagine retail again. But it’s not easy being the overseer of a company with Wal-Mart’s polarizing heritage.
Although its job vacancies attract thousands of applications and the retailer serves 245 million customers each week, many will always regard Wal-Mart as a negative force, among them New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who publicly stated his intention never to allow the company onto the streets of the Big Apple. It also attracts incredible opprobrium from labor unions and environmentalists.
But Bartlett is sanguine about such vicissitudes. Last year he told PRWeek: "It brings with it a lot of attention and scrutiny — and opportunity. The intensity of that is similar to politics. We get twice the coverage of all our competitors combined. Luckily, in my past profession you develop a thick skin for that kind of scrutiny."
You can be sure that thick skin will continue to be tested as Wal-Mart’s journey down the road to reinvention continues.