March 2006 Archives

What is business acumen?

In the latest S+B, Ram Charan writes:

"the art of business acumen: linking an insightful assessment of the external business landscape with the keen awareness of how money can be made — and then executing the strategy to deliver the desired results."

and:

"...the ability to position their companies advantageously while operating within the same external landscape as their competitors."

So how does one go about getting these insights into the external business landcape?

Charan suggests you ask yourself a series of six questions, and explore the ideas with colleagues and peers:

1. What is happening in the world today?
2. What does it mean for others?
3. What does it mean for us?
4. What would have to happen first (for the results we want to occur)?
5. What do we have to do to play a role?
6. What do we do next?

Hmmmm.

Read the article >>

Writes Doug Smith on his blog:

"...brand is the upshot of three related human actions: promising, delivering and experiencing. Employees (a category that includes executives) promise and deliver. Customers (and investors who are not actively involved in companies) experience. Most of us have yet to catch up with the latter two of these activities: delivery and experience. Because we are bombarded with logos and symbols and promises, we tend too rarely to look beyond the promising to the delivery and experience.

"That is, until the experience is entirely out of line with the promise."

Read the post to get what "brand delivery" really means. Smith also gives us an example - FOX vs. WaPo - guess which one has a consistent brand delivery...

From my other favorite, the Economist:

A lesson he [Vinod Khosla] learned from India, he says, is that one has to think big: “Unless you influence the lives of at least a million people, it simply doesn't matter.”

And:

"Mr Khosla is particularly enthused by “cellulosic” ethanol, a highly efficient way of making fuel from agricultural waste. President Bush touted this new technology in his recent state-of-the-union speech, suggesting that it may come to market in six years. In typically impatient form, Mr Khosla wants to halve that gestation period. Anyone who spends time with him is liable to be hit with his well-researched but mind-numbing PowerPoint presentation on ethanol—unveiled with the affection that some men reserve for pictures of their grandchildren."

But this is not a joke, guys. It's the next wave of capitalism- natural capitalism, as some call it.

Wake up Amrica. It is time.

Again:

"It is easy to dismiss this enthusiasm as the irrelevant obsession of a rich hobbyist or the harmless utopianism of a capitalist who has made his pile. But the big oil companies are certainly not taking Mr Khosla lightly. The oil industry is funding a lavish counter-campaign to his ballot initiative called “Californians Against Higher Taxes”. Perhaps the best reason to take Mr Khosla seriously is that his professional success and Republican leanings mean that he has the ears of powerful people. He has been making the rounds, from the White House and Capitol Hill to the World Economic Forum at Davos and the TED conference (a big annual gathering for top venture capitalists), banging the drum for ethanol. Before Larry Page, Google's co-founder, attended a recent TED conference in Monterey, California, he was sceptical about ethanol. After hearing Mr Khosla, he decided to help fund the cause. “When have you ever seen greens, farmers and guys like me and Larry on the same page?” demands Mr Khosla."

Read the article >>

"The BBC is both an entrepreneurial anomaly and an illustration of the importance of branding on the internet. It has received considerable financial backing – from a government- mandated licence fee rather than venture capitalists. But its growth stems mostly from the reputation the BBC has earned through its old-media activities in radio and television." writes the FT.

Darn right. The BBC has done what Rupert Murdoch could not (and would not) - it has become the online brand for trusted news, blowing away the pathetic efforts of the CBS, ABC, NBC, and FOX.

Why? Because the BBC is truly more fair and balanced. And it has something no American network has- constancy of purpose.

Read the article >>

PS- The other global British success story is the good old Economist.

From Barron's via Business Innovation Insider:

Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway
Kenneth Chenault, American Express
George David, United Technologies
Lew Frankfort, Coach
Richard Fuld, Lehman Brothers
Jeffrey Immelt, General Electric
Steven Jobs, Apple Computer
Richard Kovacevich, Wells Fargo
A.G. Lafley, Procter & Gamble
Arthur Levinson, Genentech
John Mackey, Whole Foods
Raymond Mason, Legg Mason
Angelo Mozilo, Countrywide Financial
Anne Mulcahy, Xerox
Steven Reinemund, Pepsico
Glenn Renwick, Progressive
Steven Roth, Vornado Realty
Bob Simpson, XTO Energy
James Sinegal, Costco Wholesale
Robert Toll, Toll Brothers

My question: Where's H. Lee Scott?

The Idea Ecosystem

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How's this for an idea -

"An internal market where any employee can propose that the company acquire a new technology, enter a new business or make an efficiency improvement. These proposals become stocks, complete with ticker symbols, discussion lists and e-mail alerts. Employees buy or sell the stocks, and prices change to reflect the sentiments of the company's engineers, computer scientists and project managers - as well as its marketers, accountants and even the receptionist."

Idea marketplaces are happening now at Rite-Solutions and InnoCentive, according to Here's an idea: Let everyone have ideas, an article in the IHT:

The next frontier is to tap the quiet genius that exists outside organizations - to attract innovations from people who are prepared to work with a company, even if they don't work for it. An intriguing case in point is InnoCentive, a virtual research and development lab through which major corporations invite scientists and engineers worldwide to contribute ideas and solve problems they haven't been able to crack themselves.

InnoCentive, based in Andover, Mass., is literally a marketplace of ideas. It has signed up more than 30 blue-chip companies, including Procter & Gamble, Boeing and DuPont, whose research labs are groaning under the weight of unsolved problems and unfinished projects. It has also signed up more than 90,000 biologists, chemists and other professionals from more than 175 countries. These "solvers" compete to meet thorny technical challenges posted by "seeker" companies. Each challenge has a detailed scientific description, a deadline and an award, which can run as high as $100,000.

"We are talking about the democratization of science," said Alpheus Bingham, who spent 28 years as a scientist and senior research executive at Eli Lilly & Company before becoming the president and chief executive of InnoCentive. "What happens when you open your company to thousands and thousands of minds, each of them with a totally different set of life experiences?"

InnoCentive, founded as an independent start-up by Lilly in 2001, has an impressive record. It can point to a long list of valuable scientific ideas that have arrived, with surprising speed, from faraway places. In addition to the United States, the top countries for solvers are China, India and Russia.

It's all about your company's innovation ecosystem. Do you have one? How do you build one? How do you participate in the ecosystem which exists already?

That's the Economist for you- always prodding us to think a step ahead.

What would really happen in China if the "peasants owned their own land"?

Doug Smith has a brilliant post on his blog about Treasury Secretary John Snow who "maintains the widening gap between high-paid and low-paid Americans reflects a labor market efficiently rewarding more-productive people."

What a joke.

The Economist spoke to this a while back. As did good old Drucker, who called executive pay "looting."

See here>>

I recently interviewed Martin Roll, the founder and CEO of VentureRepublic, a leading strategic advisory firm out of Singapore. Roll is the author of the ground-breaking bestseller Asian Brand Strategy: How Asia Builds Strong Brands.

Here are his 10 steps to building an Asian brand:

1. The CEO needs to lead the brand strategy work
2. Build your own model, as not every model suits all
3. Involve your stakeholders including the customers
4. Advance the corporate vision
5. Exploit new technology
6. Empower people to become brand ambassadors
7. Create the right delivery system
8. Communicate!
9. Measure the brand performance
10. Adjust relentlessly and be ready to raise your own bar all the times

For details, read the interview at the Zyman Institute of Brand Science website >>

"...fighting against things like open source is, in a way, fighting gravity."

in this article on Always-On >>

Well, I'm just doing it.

After years of talking and discussion- our soccer blog is finally launched. We have 8 contributors signed up from various parts of the world.

Let me know if you're interested in contributing. Prerequisite: you must know who Edson Arantes do Nascimento is!

From a press release by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.:

The decision by CBS Sports to offer free online viewing of men’s college basketball games during the annual NCAA championship tournament (better known as March Madness) is great news for hoops fans but it could be disastrous for the nation’s employers, who will undoubtedly see a significant drop-off in worker productivity.

The cost of this productivity drain could prove to be substantial over the three weeks of the tournament. In fact, for every 13.5 minutes workers spend on the Internet watching March Madness games, which begin on March 16, the cost to employers in lost wages alone exceeds $237 million. Over the 16 days of the tournament that could reach as high as $3.8 billion, according to an estimate released Tuesday by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Now they should do an analysis on worldwide lost productivity caused by this summer's World Cup (that's soccer)!

BTW, the March-Madness-online link is here. Just click on the "Continue on to CSTV.com" button...

In her book - The Power of the Purse: How Smart Businesses Are Adapting to the World's Most Important Consumers - Women, Fara Warner describes how the MGA's Bratz line of brash, but fashionable, dolls toppled Mattel's Barbie — by focusing on consumer behavior.

Says Warner:

- Don’t allow personal history or preconceived ideas of women — in this case, young girls — to overshadow insight from consumers.

- Read, listen, and respond to correspondence from consumers — not their parents. MGA used this strategy to create a line of boy Bratz.

- Consider the consumers’ whole world, not just the time when they are using the product. This strategy was used to expand Bratz beyond dolls and clothes.

- Move with consumer trends, not industry timelines. MGA creates new clothing lines for its dolls every three to six months, not just once a year.

Read this chapter — Toppling Barbie: Bratz Predict the Future — from her book.

The Bratz example serves as a powerful reminder that companies like Mattel cannot afford to rest on their laurels, but need to selectively forget the past, as Vijay Govindarajan would say.

Fara has also started a blog. Her introductory post is here.

Maybe there's a place for an environmental girl doll one of these days — perhaps a Jane Goodall do-good activist doll? I mean why do toy companies focus on girls, malls and fashion? All right, I know the answer... it was a rhetorical question.

According to the NYTimes:

"In the last six months, major media companies have received much attention for starting to move their own programming online, whether downloads for video iPods or streaming programs that can be watched over high-speed Internet connections.

"Perhaps more interesting — and, arguably, more important — are the thousands of producers whose programming would never make it into prime time but who have very dedicated small audiences. It's a phenomenon that could be called slivercasting."

The web has always been a narrowcasting medium.

More from the article:

Discovery Communications, which has been a master of the current system, creating 15 different cable channels including Animal Planet and Discovery Health, is now exploring even more specialized services over the Internet. One will be introduced tomorrow for $9.95 a month. It will offer 30,000 video clips excerpted from its library of documentaries and other educational programs to help grade school and high school students with their homework. In the future, other services will offer content focused on narrow topics in travel, science and health.

Discovery, Mr. Hendricks says, is in a good position to create such services because of its large archive. "We have a wealth of programming just related to cancer, just related to Alaska and so on," he said.

In addition to offering Internet distribution, Discovery will start to broadcast some of these programs late at night on its regular channels and encourage people to record them, he said.

To be sure, there are doubters. "I've never been a believer that we should create channels for all these niches like beach volleyball," said John Skipper, a senior vice president of ESPN, a unit of the Walt Disney Company. "They just don't pencil out. Because if you have 12,000 people, you can't afford to do it. And if you can't afford to do it, you can't make any money on it."

One reason that ESPN has shied away from this sort of niche programming, he said, is that its brand stands for a level of high-quality visual production that would be difficult for small channels to afford. Indeed, ESPN has been investing millions of dollars to produce programs in high-definition formats.

But reticence by some big media companies is making room for independent programmers to explore all sorts of niches.

Hmmm. ESPN doesn't get it... perhaps Steve Jobs will wake them up.

Here's the article in full>>

Since we've been talking about Wal-Mart this week, I figured we should look at the big picture. Nicholas Carr's article on the 6th force (take that, Michael Porter!) is a good start:

"What’s the greatest strategic challenge facing Wal-Mart today? It’s not competition from other retailers. Although the world’s biggest merchant certainly keeps a close eye on rivals like Target and Best Buy, its domination of the industry seems secure for the time being. It’s not pressure from suppliers. Wal-Mart has most makers of consumer packaged goods at its beck and call. And it isn’t the whims of buyers. Shoppers show little desire to abandon their favorite store and its dirt-cheap prices.

No, Wal-Mart’s biggest worry today is the public interest."

Great insight:

"As the experiences of Wal-Mart and other companies reveal, this traditional approach ignores the changing nature of the public interest and its expanding influence over companies’ financial results. The public does not want a company’s charity. It wants a chunk of its profits. The public interest, in other words, now expresses itself as an economic interest — the public has become an active competitor in the struggle to seize the bounties of the marketplace. As a result, the way businesses think about strategy needs to change. If a company clings to the old assumptions, it may be putting its future at risk."

I don't think the public wants "a chunk of its profits" tho; I think the public wants businesses to be fair- fair to the community and country it is in. Think economic justice. Not just social justice.

Read Carr's essay >>

PS - Does your company have an active ecoimagination?

Nicholas "IT Doesn't Matter" Carr talks about human editors versus algorithms in his post, "The editor and the crowd":

"As the comparison of Memeorandum and Slashdot shows, the software-mediated crowd is a poor replacement for a living, breathing, thinking editor. But there are other things that the crowd is quite good at. The crowd tends, for instance, to be much better than any of its members at predicting an uncertain future result that is influenced by many variables. That's why stock market indexes beat individual money managers over the long run. It's easy to understand why. First, there are limits to the ability of any single individual to understand the complexities in how a large number of variables change and influence one another over time. Second, every individual's thinking is subject to idiosyncracies and biases - some conscious, some not. The crowd aggregates all individuals' knowledge about variables while balancing out their personal biases and idiosyncracies. It's not the "wisdom" of crowds that makes crowds useful, in other words; it's their fundamental mindlessness. What crowds are good for is producing average results that are not subject to the biases and other quirks of human minds."

and

"That's also why search engines work pretty well with algorithms (until, at least, they begin to be gamed by individuals using their minds): They produce the result that best suits what the average searcher is looking for. You don't want generally used search engines to reflect individual biases. Indeed, one of their main jobs is to filter out those biases - and revert to the average."

But, says Carr:

"But that's also why algorithms don't work very well as editors. With an editor, you don't want mindlessness; you want mindfulness. A good editor combines an understanding of what the audience wants with a healthy respect for the idiosyncracies of his own mind and the minds of others. A good editor doesn't aim to provide a bland "average result"; he wants to wander widely around the average, at times even to strike out in the opposite direction altogether. The mindless crowd filters out personality along with idiosyncracy and bias. The mindful editor is all about personality."

I couldn't agree with Carr more. And that's why one of my latest projects is 100% human powered; powered by personality. I could have used software and algorithms to do the heavy lifting, but decided in favor of people. Thanks Nick!

Here we go. Says Red Herring:

"In an overt challenge to Microsoft, search giant Google said Thursday it had acquired Writely, an online word processing tool, for an undisclosed amount.

"Writely, a project of Upstartle, functions much like Microsoft Word but in a web browser. The online environment allows for collaboration between multiple authors and the benefit of someone else hosting your document."

I wrote about this a while back... wonder why is Microsoft just sitting there milking dead cows like Office?

Marc Benioff of salesforce.com says: “It demonstrates that on demand is the death knell of Microsoft. Google is firing a shot directly into the heart of Microsoft Office.”

What can you do with Writely?

According to the website:

You can:

- Upload Word documents, OpenOffice, RTF, HTML or text (or create documents from scratch).
- Use our simple WYSIWYG editor to format your documents, spell-check them, etc.
- Invite others to share your documents (by e-mail address).
- Edit documents online with whomever you choose.
- View your documents' revision history and roll back to any version.
- Publish documents online to the world, or to just who you choose.
- Download documents to your desktop as Word, OpenOffice, RTF, PDF*, HTML or zip.
- Post your documents to your blog.

The next question is: will it be free? ad-supported? free basic, paid premium-version??

C'mon Gates. You know what to do. Just kill Office, now- before Google kills it for you.

Fast Company senior writer Charles Fishman blogs: "Is Wal-Mart's Factory Inspections Program a Fraud?"

Here's an interesting snippet:

"But if you look closely at Wal-Mart's own 44-page report of its performance (issued last June), Wal-Mart's factory inspection program begins to look like an energetic PR effort, more than a serious effort to protect factory workers.

"Of the 12,500 inspections in 2004, only 8 percent were surprise inspections. That means 92 percent of Wal-Mart's inspections of factories in Bangladesh and Nicaragua and China were announced in advance -- the Wal-Mart inspectors made an appointment to come see how the factory was run."

Oh, man.

Wow. Now Wal-Mart tries to do a PR move using bloggers.

How stupid is this? And just how stupid is Edelman to advise them to take this route?!

"Paid-placement" or even the appearance of paid-placement does not work in the blogosphere. If there's one thing companies need to learn from the Republican tactic of "buying" good press, it's that it fails. And in the long run it destroys your brand.

Of course Richard Edelman doesn't blog about this on his blog. I'm sure they're working on a "plausible explanation" and we're going to hear about it in a few hours, or days... (Let's watch their response time!)

Businesses who think blogs are just like any other media are going to learn their lesson the hard way, like Wal-Mart. I can't say I feel sorry for them at all.

The NY Times article reveals how businesses (and traditional PR shops like Edelman) view the media (and now the blogosphere) as mouthpieces for their "messaging." I tell you, those days are over. Wal-Mart can change its image, but only through actions, not PR. Why not start by doubling employee wages (remember Henry Ford?).

The message to Wal-Mart executives: think "fair-price" not "lowest-price." In the long run, the "lowest price" mentality destroys shareholder value by destroying their employees and their suppliers.

Question: What if Toyota was run like Wal-Mart? The result would be - GM!

The full article (disclosed in public interest):

March 7, 2006
Wal-Mart Enlists Bloggers in P.R. Campaign
By MICHAEL BARBARO
Brian Pickrell, a blogger, recently posted a note on his Web site attacking state legislation that would force Wal-Mart Stores to spend more on employee health insurance. "All across the country, newspaper editorial boards — no great friends of business — are ripping the bills," he wrote.

It was the kind of pro-Wal-Mart comment the giant retailer might write itself. And, in fact, it did.

Several sentences in Mr. Pickrell's Jan. 20 posting — and others from different days — are identical to those written by an employee at one of Wal-Mart's public relations firms and distributed by e-mail to bloggers.

Under assault as never before, Wal-Mart is increasingly looking beyond the mainstream media and working directly with bloggers, feeding them exclusive nuggets of news, suggesting topics for postings and even inviting them to visit its corporate headquarters.

But the strategy raises questions about what bloggers, who pride themselves on independence, should disclose to readers. Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer, has been forthright with bloggers about the origins of its communications, and the company and its public relations firm, Edelman, say they do not compensate the bloggers.

But some bloggers have posted information from Wal-Mart, at times word for word, without revealing where it came from.

Glenn Reynolds, the founder of Instapundit.com, one of the oldest blogs on the Web, said that even in the blogosphere, which is renowned for its lack of rules, a basic tenet applies: "If I reprint something, I say where it came from. A blog is about your voice, it seems to me, not somebody else's."

Companies of all stripes are using blogs to help shape public opinion.

Before General Electric announced a major investment in energy-efficient technology last year, company executives first met with major environmental bloggers to build support. Others have reached out to bloggers to promote a product or service, as Microsoft did with its Xbox game system and Cingular Wireless has done in the introduction of a new phone.

What is different about Wal-Mart's approach to blogging is that rather than promoting a product — something it does quite well, given its $300 billion in annual sales — it is trying to improve its battered image.

Wal-Mart, long criticized for low wages and its health benefits, began working with bloggers in late 2005 "as part of our overall effort to tell our story," said Mona Williams, a company spokeswoman.

"As more and more Americans go to the Internet to get information from varied, credible, trusted sources, Wal-Mart is committed to participating in that online conversation," she said.

Copies of e-mail messages that a Wal-Mart representative sent to bloggers were made available to The New York Times by Bob Beller, who runs a blog called Crazy Politico's Rantings. Mr. Beller, a regular Wal-Mart shopper who frequently defends the retailer on his blog, said the company never asked that the messages be kept private.

In the messages, Wal-Mart promotes positive news about itself, like the high number of job applications it received at a new store in Illinois, and criticizes opponents, noting for example that a rival, Target, raised "zero" money for the Salvation Army in 2005, because it banned red-kettle collectors from stores.

The author of the e-mail messages is a blogger named Marshall Manson, a senior account supervisor at Edelman who writes for conservative Web sites like Human Events Online, which advocates limited government, and Confirm Them, which has pushed for the confirmation of President Bush's judicial nominees.

In interviews, bloggers said Mr. Manson contacted them after they wrote postings that either endorsed the retailer or challenged its critics.

Mr. Beller, who runs Crazy Politico's Rantings, for example, said he received an e-mail message from Mr. Manson soon after criticizing the passage of a law in Maryland that requires Wal-Mart to spend 8 percent of its payroll on health care.

Mr. Manson, identifying himself as a "blogger myself" who does "online public affairs for Wal-Mart," began with a bit of flattery: "Just wanted you to know that your post criticizing Maryland's Wal-Mart health care bill was noticed here and at the corporate headquarters in Bentonville," he wrote, referring to the city in Arkansas.

"If you're interested," he continued, "I'd like to drop you the occasional update with some newsworthy info about the company and an occasional nugget that you won't hear about in the M.S.M." — or mainstream media.

Bloggers who agreed to receive the e-mail messages said they were eager to hear Wal-Mart's side of the story, which they said they felt had been drowned out by critics, and were tantalized by the promise of exclusive news that might attract more visitors to their Web sites.

"I am always interested in tips to stories," said one recipient of Mr. Manson's e-mail messages, Bill Nienhuis, who operates a Web site called PunditGuy.com.

But some bloggers are also defensive about their contacts with Wal-Mart. When they learned that The New York Times was looking at how they were using information from the retailer, several bloggers posted items challenging The Times's article before it had appeared. One blog, Iowa Voice, run by Mr. Pickrell, pleads for advertisers to buy space on the blog in anticipation of more traffic because of the article.

The e-mail messages Mr. Manson has sent to bloggers are structured like typical blog postings, with a pungent sentence or two introducing a link to a news article or release.

John McAdams, a political science professor at Marquette University who runs the Marquette Warrior blog, recently posted three links about union activity in the same order as he received them from Mr. Manson. Mr. McAdams acknowledged that he worked from Wal-Mart's links and that he did not disclose his contact with Mr. Manson.

"I usually do not reveal where I get a tip or a lead on a story," he said, adding that journalists often do not disclose where they get ideas for stories either.

Wal-Mart has warned bloggers against lifting text from the e-mail it sends them. After apparently noticing the practice, Mr. Manson asked them to "resist the urge," because "I'd be sick if someone ripped you because they noticed a couple of bloggers with nearly identical posts."

But Mr. Manson has not encouraged bloggers to reveal that they communicate with Wal-Mart or to attribute information to either the retailer or Edelman, Ms. Williams of Wal-Mart said.

To be sure, some bloggers who post material from Mr. Manson's e-mail do disclose its origins, mentioning Mr. Manson and Wal-Mart by name. But others refer to Mr. Manson as "one reader," say they received a "heads up" about news from Wal-Mart or disclose nothing at all.

Mr. Pickrell, the 37-year-old who runs the Iowa Voice blog, said he began receiving updates from Wal-Mart in January. Like Mr. Beller, of Crazy Politico, Mr. Pickrell had criticized the Maryland legislature over its health care law before Wal-Mart contacted him.

Since then, he has written at least three postings that contain language identical to sentences in e-mail from Mr. Manson. In one, which Mr. Pickrell attributed to a "reader," he reported that Wal-Mart was about to announce that a store in Illinois received 25,000 applications for 325 jobs. "That's a 1.3 percent acceptance rate," the message read. "Consider this: Harvard University (undergraduate) accepts 11 percent of applicants. The Navy Seals accept 5 percent of applicants."

Asked in a telephone interview about the resemblance of his postings to Mr. Manson's, Mr. Pickrell said: "I probably cut and paste a little bit and I should not have," adding that "I try to write my posting in my own words."

In an e-mail message sent after the interview, Mr. Pickrell said he received e-mail from many groups, including those opposed to Wal-Mart, which he uses as a starting point to "do my own research on a topic."

"I draw my own conclusions when I form my opinions," he said.

Mr. Pickrell, explaining his support for Wal-Mart, said he shops there regularly and is impressed with how his mother-in-law, a Wal-Mart employee, is treated. "They go real out of their way for their people," he said.

Wal-Mart's blogging initiative is part of a ballooning public relations campaign developed in consultation with Edelman to help Wal-Mart as two groups, Wal-Mart Watch and Wake Up Wal-Mart, aggressively prod it to change. The groups operate blogs that receive posts from current and former Wal-Mart employees, elected leaders and consumers.

Edelman also helped Wal-Mart develop a political-style war room, staffed by former political operatives, which monitors and responds to the retailer's critics, and helped create Working Families for Wal-Mart, a new group that is trying to build support for the company in cities across the country.

At Edelman, Mr. Manson, who sends many of the e-mail messages to bloggers, works closely on the Wal-Mart account with Mike Krempasky, a co-founder of RedState.org, a conservative blog. Both are regular bloggers, which in Mr. Manson's case means he has written critically of individuals and groups Wal-Mart may eventually call on for support.

Before he was hired by Edelman in November, Mr. Manson wrote on the Human Events Online blog that members of the San Francisco city council were "dolts" and "twits" for rejecting a proposed World War II memorial and that every day "the United Nations slides further and further into irrelevance." After he was hired, Mr. Manson wrote that the career of Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island was marked by "pointless indecision."

Wal-Mart declined to make Mr. Manson available for comment. Ms. Williams said, "It is not Wal-Mart's role to monitor the opinions of our consultants or how they express them on their own time."

In a sign of how eager Wal-Mart is to develop ties to bloggers, the company has invited them to a media conference to be held at its headquarters in April. In e-mail messages, Wal-Mart has polled several bloggers about whether they would make the trip, which the bloggers would have to pay for themselves.

Mr. Reynolds of Instapundit.com said he recently was invited to Wal-Mart's offices but declined. "Bentonville, Arkansas," he said, "is not my idea of a fun destination."

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