In 2003, it became even more fashionable to attack Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT). While the world's largest retailer is still in many ways the darling of corporate America, its public relations machine kicked into high gear last year.

Some people will always consider Wal-Mart an evil behemoth, but the media's portrayal of the retailer for much of 2003 seemed to tilt that way more than in years past. (How many other retailers, fast-food and tobacco companies aside, have been debated as socially irresponsible investments?)

But Wal-Mart, according to The Washington Post's Greg Schneider, is fighting back. Schneider's story "Wal-Mart's Damage Control," a worthy read for investors and observers alike, details many of the company's efforts to overcome (among other things) the bad publicity it has faced concerning the treatment of its employees, the hiring of illegal immigrants, and its impact on communities and markets.

What's most interesting about the story is that it describes in a useful way the complex job of managing a corporation's "face" today. A company Wal-Mart's size likely has teams managing its relations with the public, the media, investors, suppliers, partners, employees, and customer relations.

Today's information whirlwind encompasses around-the-clock television news, "issue-based" advertising and PR reminiscent of political campaigns, discussion boards, info-packed investor websites, tell-all blogs, and more. The lines delineating company management teams' communications missions grow more virtual each day. The best businesses will have to understand this and adapt, something Wal-Mart knows quite well.

Talk about Big Bentonville's PR push on our Wal-Mart discussion board.

Dave Marino-Nachison can be reached at