Thursday, November 1, 2012

Positioning the Story

The Wall Street Journal yesterday published an interview with Sam’s Club CEO Rosalind Brewer. This post, however, is really about journalism, specifically the bear-baiting habits of the media, which try to generate “excitement” by using words that signal combat, war, and conflict.

On the front page of the Marketplace section, the WSJ headlines a page 7 story thus: Sam’s Club Chief Maps Big Plan to Outflank Costco. The story’s actual headline is: Sam’s Club CEO Launches Charge on Rivals. The story is an interview. It begins with a blurb by the Journal “setting the stage,” thus “positioning the story.” In that setting, Sam’s Club is compared, unfavorably, to Costco and Amazon.com.  Then the interview follows. But the only mentions of either Costco or Amazon are two questions by the Journal’s interviewer, each a leading question:
  • Sam’s Club has posted two years of positive sales growth but still lags Costco. What will it take to catch up and make Sam’s Club into an $80 billion—$100 billion business?
  • Are you afraid of online retainers like Amazon.com that have been taking away market share from brick-and-mortar retailers?
Rosalind Brewer artfully avoids mentioning these two companies or engaging those questions at all—except to note, in answer to the second question, that “It’s always good to have a strong competitor; they make you better.” She speaks of products and serving the customers throughout. Well, Bravo, Ms. Brewer. She seems to grasp something that the “investment community,” so called, will evidently never learn. Companies exist to serve their customers—not to please those who buy their stocks. Some CEOs know that, others don’t. Life is about service, not combat. Therefore a quite innocuous story is turned into a seeming clash of giants when it’s really about carrying more gluten-free products…

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