BENTONVILLE, Ark., Oct. 26 - Inside a stuffy, windowless room below, veterans of the 2004 Bush and Kerry presidential projects sit, stand also and also pace approximately six plastic folding tables. Open containers of pistachio nuts and tropical trail mix complete for space with laptop computers and BlackBerries. CNN flickers on a television in the corner.

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The phone rings, and a 20-somepoint womale answers. "Turn on Fox," she yells, running approximately the TV via a notepad. "This can be essential."

A scene from a campaign war room? Well, kind of. It is a war room inside the headquarters of Wal-Mart, the giant discount retailer that hopes to offer a brand-new, improved image to reluctant consumers.

Wal-Mart is taking a web page from the contemporary political playbook. Under fire from well-arranged enemies that have hammered the retailer with objections of its weras, wellness insurance and therapy of employees, Wal-Mart has quietly recruited former presidential advisers, consisting of Michael K. Deaver, who was Ronald Reagan's image-meister, and also Leslie Dach, among Bill Clinton's media consultants, to set up a rapid-response public connections team in Arkansas.

When small-business owners or union officials -- likewise employing political operatives from previous campaigns -- criticize the company, the war room swings into activity with push releases, phone calls to reporters and also immediate Web postings.

One tarobtain of the initiative are "swing voters," or consumers who have actually not soured on Wal-Mart. The new technique appears to reflect a are afraid that Wal-Mart's movie critics are alienating the extremely consumers it needs to keep growing, especially middle-earnings Americans urged not simply by price, but by photo.

The initially significant difficulty of the strategy will certainly come Nov. 1 with the premiere of an unflattering documentary. "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" was made on a shoestring budobtain of $1.8 million and also will certainly be released in around 2 dozen theaters. But its director, Robert Greenwald, wishes to display the movie in thousands of residences and churches in the following month. The possibility that it could end up being a cult hit like Michael Moore's 1989 unsympathetic portrait of General Motors, "Roger & Me," has actually Wal-Mart worried.

So, Wal-Mart has actually took on a counteroffensive that would have been unthinkable even a year ago. Relying on a preview posted online, Wal-Mart investigated the occasions described in the film and developed a short video completing the film has actually factual errors. (Mr. Greenwald denies there are errors and also says that Wal-Mart has not watched the last reduced.)

Wal-Mart has actually also begun to promote a 2nd film, "Why Wal-Mart Works & Why That Makes Some People Crazy," which casts the firm in a rosier light. Wal-Mart decreased to make its executives easily accessible for the Greenwald film, however it participated via the second film's director, Ron Galloway. The battle room team assisted distribute a letter, composed by Mr. Gallomethod, that difficulties Mr. Greenwald to display the 2 movies side-by-side.

To keep up through its doubters, Wal-Mart "has to run a campaign," said Robert McAdam, a previous political strategist at the Tobacco Institute who currently oversees Wal-Mart's corporate interactions. "It's ssuggest nonsense for us to let some of these attacks go without a response."

Wal-Mart's aggressive brand-new posture is a leave from its legacy of relying on an interior staff to regulate the company's picture. The war room, which is part of a larger Wal-Mart initiative to portray itself as more worker-friendly and also environmentally aware, runs respond to to the approach of the chain's founder, Sam Walton. Believing that public connections was a waste of time and also money, the penny-pinching Mr. Walton would not likely have hired a public relations firm choose Edelmale, Wal-Mart's alternative to run its battle room.

So what has actually changed? For one thing, Wal-Mart's critics have end up being even more advanced.

For years, unions hurled little bit even more than insults at the chain. But over the last year, two small groups -- Wal-Mart Watch and also Wake Up Wal-Mart -- put up shop in Washington through the goal of waging the public relationships identical of guerilla warfare against the company. Wal-Mart Watch received start-up cash from the Service Employees International Union; Wake Up Wal-Mart is a project of the United Food and Commercial Workers Internationwide Union. Unions have actually tried, uneffectively, to organize Wal-Mart's employees.

At the tip of Wake Up Wal-Mart, members of the nation's largest teachers' unions staged a boycott of Wal-Mart for back-to-school offers this fall. Wal-Mart Watch, meanwhile, erected an automated phone mechanism that referred to as 10,000 world in Arkansas in June seeking potential whistle-blowers willing to share tricks about the retailer.

Wal-Mart did not reyet such assaults, also once Wal-Mart Watch released a 24-page report blasting the company's weras and benefits. Wal-Mart Watch said the report had actually been downloaded from its Web site 55,000 times.

Once a darling of Wall Street, Wal-Mart's stock price has actually fallen 27 percent considering that 2000, once H. Lee Scott Jr. came to be chief executive, a drop that executives have actually said shows, in part, investors' anxieties about the company's photo. Sales expansion at stores open up for even more than a year has actually slowed to an average of 3.5 percent a month this year, compared with 6.3 percent at Tarobtain. And Wal-Mart is encountering prospering resistance to brand-new city stores, through high- profile defeats in Los Angeles, Chicback and also New York.

Tright here is some evidence that criticism is affecting consumers. A confidential 2004 report all set by McKinsey & Company kind of for Wal-Mart, and made public by Wal-Mart Watch, found that 2 percent to 8 percent of Wal-Mart consumers surveyed have actually ceased shopping at the chain because of "negative press they have heard."

The Greenwald movie threa10s to make matters worse. It attributes whistle-blowers who explain Wal-Mart managers cheating employees out of overtime pay and also encouraging them to seek state-funded health and wellness care as soon as they cannot afford the company's insurance. And it travels throughout small-town America to assess the results on independent businesses and downtowns after a Wal-Mart opens.

The film is a details issue now that Wal-Mart is trying to move uprange, a strategy it really hopes will appeal to higher-income consumers. In the last year, Wal-Mart has introduced a line of urban fashions called Metro 7, hired thousands of fashion experts to monitor how clothing is shown in stores, and produced more poliburned heralding.

But for the fashion strategy to pay off, Wal-Mart must win over a group of shoppers who are sensitive to criticism of the chain's record -- consumers, in the words of Wal-Mart's chief executive, "who are not worried about their next payinspect."

Hence the war room in Bentonville. Wal-Mart executives realized they were unprepared to react to what Mr. Scott began to call the the majority of expensive campaign ever before waged versus a corporation. So the company quietly mailed a letter to the country's best public relations firms a number of months back seeking their aid in arising a response.

The contract saw Edelmale, which assigned its top two Washington operatives to the account. Wal-Mart would certainly not say what it is paying Edelman, nor would certainly it enable interviews with the war room staff. Mr. Dach, that is active in ecological and also Democratic causes, was an outside adviser to President Clinton in the time of the impeachment battle. Mr. Deaver was President Reagan's interactions director and also the imaginative force behind Mr. Reagan's so-referred to as Teflon photo.

Edelguy additionally dispatched at leastern 6 previous political operatives to Bentonville, including Jonathan Adashek, director of national delegate strategy for John Kerry, and David White, that aided regulate the 1998 re-election of Representative Nancy Johnkid, a Connectireduced Republican. Terry Nelboy, who was the nationwide political director of the 2004 Shrub campaign, advises the group.

In rotate, Wakeup Wal-Mart is led by, among others, Paul Blank, former political director for the Howard Dean presidential project, and also Chris Kofinis, that assisted develop the campaign.

Wal-Mart Watch's media team includes Jim Jordan, previous director of the Kerry campaign, and Tracy Sefl, a former Democratic National Committee aide responsible for distributing negative push reports around President Bush during the 2004 campaign.

The war room staff arrives at Wal-Mart's headquarters, a short drive from a surrounding corpoprice apartment where they live, by 7 eextremely morning. The team works out of an old conference room on the second floor, christened Action Alley, the exact same name Wal-Mart gives to the wide, circular aisle that runs about its stores.

The team starts the day by scanning newspaper short articles and tv transcripts that cite Wal-Mart. Next come conference calls with Wal-Mart employees around the nation to setup for events. Whenever possible, Mr. McAdam shelp, the battle room will certainly try to neutralize criticism prior to it is leveled.

That was the strategy behind what Action Alley considers its initially coup. In late September, after numerous unions damaged off from the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the splinter teams announced they would hold a convention in St. Louis on a Tuesday.

Action Alley members, assuming Wal-Mart would be a tarobtain of criticism throughout the union gathering, arranged for Wal-Mart to organize its own news conference the day before. It invited three regional suppliers, a sympathetic regional official and also a cashier to say that Wal-Mart had a positive effect on the area.

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"If you look at many type of of the stories that were composed around that all at once convention, they've acquired our messeras in them," Mr. McAdam said. "In the previous, once we've just responded to something somebody else is doing, it's kind of 'you know, by the way, Wal-Mart states ' We gained ahead of this one."

A project atmosphere pervades Action Alley. A little bus via the words "Clinton-Gore" on the side sits on the table. When mentioning Wakeup Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart Watch and also the Greenwald movie, Mr. McAdam slips into political-soptimal.

"The people who show up at Mr. Greenwald's film are most likely not swing voters," he sassist. "They are most likely the true believers of their allude of see and I doubt tright here is a heck of a lot we deserve to do to adjust their minds."

Mr. McAdam continued: "They've acquired their base. We've obtained ours. But tbelow is a group in the middle that really we all should be talking to."