July 30, 2009, 12:00 AM

The NRF, Wal-Mart, and Obama

My guess is that Procter & Gamble noticed how other consumer brand manufacturers grew their web sales by 15% last year.

In April, the National Retail Federation, which represents retailers of all sizes, agreed to merge with the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents the largest chains. The object of the merger, said the NRF, was to create “a unified and stronger voice on policy” in Washington. By July, the merger was scuttled and NRF CEO Tracy Mullin was writing a letter to her members excoriating Wal-Mart for being “in lock-step with the unions” in supporting President Obama’s health care reforms. Mullin’s complaint is that Obama’s plan requires employers to provide health insurance to employees, which she says “would drive up costs for retailers while doing nothing to address waste, inefficiencies and lack of competition.” She accuses Wal-Mart of trying to get a “short-term public relations boost” by favoring a plan that “could have long-lasting, devastating consequences to retailers.” Wal-Mart, which greatly enhanced its employee health care benefit, is a member of RILA but not the NRF, which helps explain why the merger collapsed. Mullin’s letter scored points with retailers who do not want to be ordered to provide employee health insurance. But it didn’t explain how the NRF would repair our country’s health care system, which each year costs $7,500 per person-double the cost of health care in other wealthy countries, whose citizens on balance receive better health care than ours. The NRF, according to E. Neil Trautwein, the association’s vice president and employee benefits policy counsel, supports “comprehensive reform and universal coverage based on an individual mandate to obtain basic coverage and subsidies to help with the cost of coverage.” So much for a unified voice on public policy.

The legacy of Walter Cronkite

While the media was going berserk over Michael Jackson’s death, the media itself lost a giant who gave us much during his long tenure as “Managing Editor” of the CBS Evening News. Walter Cronkite reported the news thoroughly and objectively and in doing so enlightened a nation on the calamity that was Vietnam, the abuse of executive power that was Watergate, and the irrepressible power of the American spirit represented by our landing on the moon. His breed of journalist is disappearing, replaced by agenda-driven talking heads on cable news and so many Internet bloggers that it’s hard to tell who offer heady talk and who are talking through their heads. Newspapers, once journalistically disciplined, are dying. They aren’t alone. Business Week, where I toiled as an editor years ago, became the most profitable publication by giving its reporters time to cover stories in depth and spot trends in business before anyone else; last month it was put on the block after suffering huge losses by virtue of its inability to adapt its formula successfully to a digital age. The Internet is a miracle of communication, but it’s missing editors who can distill gigabytes of data into salient information. That is the mission of this magazine.

Procter & Gamble and the web

Last month, the company that created modern consumer brand marketing purchased a small chain of men’s grooming emporiums called The Art of Shaving. With the acquisition comes a slick web site that sells Gillette razors, Braun electric shavers and other brands belonging to P&G;, which has shied away from using its web sites to sell products direct-to-consumer, presumably to protect its commanding position on store shelves. I doubt the Cincinnati colossus bought this chain solely to get 37 shaving shops. My guess is that it noticed how other consumer brand manufacturers grew their web sales by 15% last year.


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