Join 3,561 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Worst Practices in Corporate Video
April 9, 2008 9:59 AM   Subscribe

For 30 years, retail juggernaut Walmart used a small video production company to capture footage of its top executives -- sometimes in unguarded moments. Two years ago, they stopped using the company. But Walmart never signed a contract with the company...and now the material is "proving irresistible to everyone from business historians and documentary filmmakers to plaintiffs lawyers and union organizers."
posted by VicNebulous (46 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
In 1991, founder Sam Walton describes Hillary Clinton, then a Wal-Mart director, as "one of us."

Gold. The existence of the relationship hasn't gotten any traction, but video like this in the hands of unions...
posted by DU at 10:05 AM on April 9, 2008


"In [a clip from] 1991, founder Sam Walton describes Hillary Clinton, then a Wal-Mart director, as 'one of us.'"

I bet Obama's people are on the phone right now negotiating to purchase such video.
posted by ericb at 10:05 AM on April 9, 2008


Jinx. DU, you owe me a Coke!
posted by ericb at 10:06 AM on April 9, 2008


I really, really want that video in the hands of Obama's campaign. That would be beautiful.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:16 AM on April 9, 2008


Flagler offered to sell the whole video archive to Wal-Mart for several million dollars... Wal-Mart countered with an offer of $500,000, arguing the footage wouldn't be of interest elsewhere, the two owners say.

Yeah, because who would possibly be interested in having an unedited look at the life behind the scenes of the executives of one of the most powerful and vilified companies in the world.

No one would care about that, and certainly it wouldn't be worth all that much...
posted by quin at 10:17 AM on April 9, 2008


New Canadian Film: "Wal-Mart World's Most Hated Company."
posted by ericb at 10:18 AM on April 9, 2008


That Wal-Mart let this happen speaks volumes about the organization. Absolute volumes.
posted by pineapple at 10:21 AM on April 9, 2008


"Needless to say, we did not pay Flagler Productions to tape internal meetings with this aftermarket in mind." is going on record as the Awesomest Quote I Have Heard In A While.

That being said, the article clearly indicates that the video company is dead and this is just an attempt to keep afloat/cash out. Which is good, because this move is career suicide for a company that apparently specialized in corporate video production -- what corporation would hire a company with this on their record?
posted by Shepherd at 10:21 AM on April 9, 2008


Damn, because I was totally going to hire them after this.
posted by Artw at 10:25 AM on April 9, 2008


Thus did this tiny film company, scorned by their collossus, but left with his delicate linens did air them for all to see, and thus were they snapped up by the curious, the spiteful and the diligent alike.

And so we all shared a laugh.

On a distant rooftop, Bob Kolody and I sat in lawn chairs, and we watched as, in the tradition of this fine country that we know and love, in spite of laws, courts, truth and justice, the collossus squashed this tiny film company like a bug.

As we sat there, watching another mag-locks bolt closed on the inevitability of a new oligarchy, Bob proposed a toast: "to the corporate epoch, and its immortality, man and nature, their laws be damned! Cheers!"

In the spirit of these grim times, to him I raised a can of Coca-Cola.

And so we laughed once more.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:26 AM on April 9, 2008 [14 favorites]


Irking large corporations makes my pants tight.
posted by ZaneJ. at 10:30 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is fantastic. I'll hold out hope that footage will turn up of Sam Walton doing lines of coke off the elephantine ass of a Wal-Mart checker.
posted by felix betachat at 10:33 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I may be misunderstanding the write-up, but it sounds very much like the company was paid to produce the events, not to document them.

A friend of mine who works for a corporate event management company tells me that they regularly do the same thing -- document their work for hire via video, for the purposes of portfolio and promotions. Of course, not being asshats, my friend's company gets all of the proper documentation put to bed first.

Wal-Mart's failure to secure the rights for such documentary footage is foolish in the extreme, and they deserve to learn a big, fat, sopping lesson from this experience. As far as I can tell, the ex-production company is operating within their rights to re-use or re-sell any media that hasn't been contractually spoken for.
posted by CheeseburgerBrown at 10:36 AM on April 9, 2008


I'm surprised they didn't lock down the video company people in one of their stores the way they do with their night shift slaves. they don't run the ship as tight as they used to.

Sam Walton doing lines of coke

it was Chinese chalk, in fact.
posted by matteo at 10:37 AM on April 9, 2008


The big legal question here, it seems to me, is whether or not the footage is considered "work for hire."

Here's the relevant law:

Works Made for Hire. -- (1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or (2) a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas, if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire. (17 U.S.C. sec 101) [emphasis added]

Since nothing was ever signed, then it looks like it's not considered work for hire, and the copyright vests with the film makers.

Fascinating.
posted by MythMaker at 10:37 AM on April 9, 2008


"In [a clip from] 1991, founder Sam Walton describes Hillary Clinton, then a Wal-Mart director, as 'one of us.'"

I bet Obama's people are on the phone right now negotiating to purchase such video.


Here's the video of the WalMart Board Meeting in question.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:38 AM on April 9, 2008


Um, guys the Hillary/Walmart thing was all over the news a month or so ago. After Obama mentioned it during the debate, the clips started showing up on the news.

It's pretty hilarious that a company like walmart would let something like this slip out.
posted by delmoi at 10:39 AM on April 9, 2008


I'm no fan of Walmart, but what this production company did is not so legit. Most firms, I think, would have amicably bid farewell after a 15 year professional relationship and not done this kind of thing. Its harmful.
posted by sswiller at 10:47 AM on April 9, 2008


Why is it that the powerful and downright villainous of this world have this penchant for recording themselves in their unguarded, honest moments? I think that after Watergate, any self-respecting evil mastermind who willingly videotapes themselves deserves what's coming to them.

I know when I launch my plans for world domination there will be no paper trail.
posted by persephone at 10:48 AM on April 9, 2008


I suspect Walmart will be making substantial offers to purchase those tapes, if they find out they can't make a legal case.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:50 AM on April 9, 2008


..they deserve to learn a big, fat, sopping lesson from this experience.

This is actually the downside. You can bet that small film companies all over the country are having their legal asses reamed by the corporate masters they serve. The managers at those corporations are also right now reading memos entitled "Humor in the Workplace Considered Harmful".
posted by DU at 10:50 AM on April 9, 2008


Plaintiff's lawyers can get this with a subpoena, regardless of whether or not Wal Mart signed a contract with them.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:04 AM on April 9, 2008


Hoisted by their own discounted petard from aisle five.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:17 AM on April 9, 2008


For anybody who would knows what they're talking about: Now that video documents of Wal-Mart meetings are public knowledge, does corporate accountability law (Sarbanes-Oxley or etc.) dictate that they remain accessible? Eg, is it now illegal for Wal-Mart to buy up and destroy the videos?
posted by ardgedee at 11:18 AM on April 9, 2008


Most firms, I think, would have amicably bid farewell after a 15 year professional relationship and not done this kind of thing. Its harmful.

So a wife of thirty years is just going to collect up her stuff and amicably move out after she's been replaced by a younger, hornier, cheaper model? Please tell me where this woman lives.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:24 AM on April 9, 2008


The film production company, in my opinion, is harming itself through what it's doing to Wal-mart. What kind of big corporation would ever want to hire them, after finding out what they do when contracts end? :/
posted by ralph9 at 11:29 AM on April 9, 2008


So a wife of thirty years is just going to collect up her stuff and amicably move out after she's been replaced by a younger, hornier, cheaper model? Please tell me where this woman lives.

Wouldn't you be more interested in the younger, hornier, cheaper one?
posted by DU at 11:29 AM on April 9, 2008


The film production company, in my opinion, is harming itself through what it's doing to Wal-mart. What kind of big corporation would ever want to hire them, after finding out what they do when contracts end? :/

It sounds like the company was pretty much dead after Walmart stopped working with them, and they're making more money serving as a for-profit research library then they are as a production company.
posted by delmoi at 11:32 AM on April 9, 2008


Between this and the recent payout to the brain-damaged woman, I'm reminded of words to live by:

"Never attribute to malice what is adequately explained by incompetence."
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:33 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Chinese chalk that Wal-Mart sells is actually a superior product. Its light-blue deposit provides much better control at the end of my cue than the gritty, dark-blue blocks you usually encounter. I'm puzzled as to what benefit Sam got by putting it up his nose, though.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:36 AM on April 9, 2008


In 1991, founder Sam Walton describes Hillary Clinton, then a Wal-Mart director, as "one of us."

damn. that is an attack ad I would love to see.
posted by krautland at 11:43 AM on April 9, 2008


Wouldn't you be more interested in the younger, hornier, cheaper one?

Sorry, I forgot to add the sarcasm/incredulous tag. What I was trying to communicate to sswiller was that in the case where a company unwisely had 90% of its revenue stream tied up at walmart for 30 years, they weren't about to go out of business without at least milking the walmart connection until they could develop other revenue streams. I used the old/new wife as a metaphor to explain a simple business process to someone who otherwise was apparently operating in the realm of morals/ethics/values. I'm not sure of term for the "Please tell me where this woman lives" bit at the end, but I guess it could've also been written as "What a country!", but without the inference of greenhorns when they finally discover that the streets of these United States are indeed paved of gold if you know where to look. I wasn't trying to imply that I would choose the older wife over the newer, hornier one as mate preference, but more as where can I find a woman, preferable of my own age, with a similar outlook on long-term, walkaway/throwaway relationships. Jokingly, of course. Thanks for allowing me to clear that up.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:50 AM on April 9, 2008


Its [sic] harmful.

It isn't harmful to me!
posted by octobersurprise at 12:01 PM on April 9, 2008


What kind of big corporation would ever want to hire them, after finding out what they do when contracts end?

But it sounds like they didn't have a work-for-hire contract, or any kind of written contract with the we-own-this, you-own-that spelled out. The work is still theirs, to do with as they wish. If future corporations were to consider hiring them, all they'd need to do is draw up a decent contract that protects their (the corporation's) interests. Wal-Mart didn't. Lesson learned.
posted by rtha at 12:24 PM on April 9, 2008


I know when I launch my plans for world domination there will be no paper trail.

Oops.
posted by junkbox at 12:47 PM on April 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


DU writes "This is actually the downside. You can bet that small film companies all over the country are having their legal asses reamed by the corporate masters they serve. The managers at those corporations are also right now reading memos entitled 'Humor in the Workplace Considered Harmful'."

But the outcome of the decision of Wal-Mart dropping this company was something of an inevitability. Wal-Mart knows as well as any cutthroat company that any opening for an advantage is an opportunity, regardless of what other parties are affected. This is business. And when the relationship started, it was 30 years ago, back when Wal-Mart was not a behemoth. Believe me, plenty of small-mid sized businesses still do handshake deals for stuff like this, and they'll continue to do so. It's when they get to be a certain size that their lawyers should start inquiring about these business relationships and tighten things up. The fact that they didn't is really only the fault of Wal-Mart.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:56 PM on April 9, 2008


> What kind of big corporation would ever want to hire them, after finding out what they do when contracts end?

Read the story. After Walmart dropped them as a vendor, the owner closed up shop, dumped his studio, cameras, and other equipment, and sold the company to his former employees. All that's left is two people leasing access to a storage locker full of video tape, and they don't seem interested in doing anything more than that.
posted by ardgedee at 1:03 PM on April 9, 2008


Believe me, plenty of small-mid sized businesses still do handshake deals for stuff like this, and they'll continue to do so. It's when they get to be a certain size that their lawyers should start inquiring about these business relationships and tighten things up.

Case-in-point: Facebook Reportedly Near Accord Over Origin.
posted by ericb at 1:05 PM on April 9, 2008


delmoi writes "It's pretty hilarious that a company like walmart would let something like this slip out."

Right , remember the times when guest/guest worked? It wasn't even something so "sophisticated" as /etc/passwd. Corps commit the funniest darnest errors and when the corp is known for preaching unions are bad, but still behave like a corrupt union would, who's going to shed a tear? Having the right competencies and powers, I'd feel exploiting their temporary weakness to be just tit for tat.

---------

But realistically, I can't asses wheter the evidence found, if any, will be enough to change WM management minds, I doubt that. It's a lot less expensive to just replace them with a new batch of managers and pass the cost to the investors, namely the stockholder. I don't know exactly how WM capital is distributed, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that most of the capital is in the hands of a bazillion little stockholder , individually irrelevant.

In a similar story of union troubles, the Thyseenkrupp company is under investigation in Italy for a freak "accident" that costed the life 6 workers, who agonized in terrible pain for days after being almost burned alive. Allegations of gross negligence in security maintenance have been advanced and rumors keep confirming the callous attitude of the management when formal complaints about security were filed by workers, designed to discourage and punish the worker for producing evidence.

Meanwhile , ThyssenKrupp is now offering some of the workers who leave the company an astonishingly high bonus for going away, almost one year of salary, on one simple condition: they should renounce to advance any legal action in the future. I don't know the details, but apparently the unions are upset by that move, but they see that being given 30K euros is quite a bait for many families, all formally united against the evil, but taken individually they all mistrust each other.

Yet, it appears that the law written so that if a union representative was present when the worker signed the agreement, then it becomes incredibly more difficult to demonstrate the employer somehow misled the worker, probably on the grounds that the union representative was there to protect the worker best interest.

Or was he bought for a pittance?
posted by elpapacito at 1:51 PM on April 9, 2008


Flagler offered to sell the whole video archive to Wal-Mart for several million dollars, Ms. Villanueva says, although she won't disclose the exact price. Wal-Mart countered with an offer of $500,000, arguing the footage wouldn't be of interest elsewhere, the two owners say.

This amazingly poor, short-sighted business decision by Wal-Mart is going to bite them in the ass, hard, for a number of years to come, and it's not as if Flagler didn't offer to play fair with them first.
posted by FormlessOne at 2:03 PM on April 9, 2008


I'm no fan of Walmart, but what this production company did is not so legit. Most firms, I think, would have amicably bid farewell after a 15 year professional relationship and not done this kind of thing. Its harmful.

It's Walmart. Sam Walton would sneak into your house and rape your kitten if it would make him a buck, he'd get away with it, and he wasn't rotting. Abiding by a one-way social contract (I'll deal fairly and ethically with Walmart while they won't deal fairly and ethically with me.) is foolish.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:17 PM on April 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Plaintiffs attorney Diane M. Breneman stumbled across the videos while working on a lawsuit.... Her client was injured when he poured gasoline from the container onto a pile of wet wood he had been trying to light, and the can exploded.

I find for the defendant. People who use gasoline as lighter fluid deserve to explode.
posted by ook at 2:46 PM on April 9, 2008


What kind of big corporation would ever want to hire them, after finding out what they do when contracts end?

Maybe all the companies that walmart has put the screws to over the years who are delighted that walmart is getting a taste of their strong arm tactics right back. They might think the people in this production company are heroes.
posted by madamjujujive at 4:35 PM on April 9, 2008


Wal-Mart has a lawyer called Marshall Ney? Because that worked out so well for Napoleon.
posted by Hogshead at 5:22 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I may be misunderstanding the write-up, but it sounds very much like the company was paid to produce the events, not to document them.

No. They were hired to film company events. Watch the report from tonight's NBC Nightly News: Wal-Mart's Internal Videos on Display.

For 30 year they have "videotaped company activities, alot of it behind the scenes."

"It's basically videotapes of meetings, in-store footage, old commercials, part of the Walton family; just about everything that revolves around WalMart."
posted by ericb at 5:30 PM on April 9, 2008


ABC News: story and video.
posted by ericb at 8:00 PM on April 9, 2008


« Older Waiterless restaurants: Over a hundred years ago, ...  |  Lies I've told my three year o... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments