A mountain of A-list celebrities, including Hugh Jackman, Tom Cruise, and Kelly Clarkson, swarmed Walmart‘s (NYSE:WMT) annual meeting in a show of support before thousands of employees and investors. Most impressively, not a single celebrity was paid for their appearance at the event, which is stacked with live musical performances and speeches by Hollywood elite.
The presence of so many powerful individuals from the entertainment industry may seem strange at first glance. After all, Walmart is mired in several complicated public relations issues, including protests over low wages, alleged bribery of officials in Mexico, and working conditions in Bangladesh. But to the entertainment industry, which profits enormously from Walmart’s sales of their items in their stores, the relationship is critical. And, it is also growing and evolving.
The influence of Walmart in the entertainment industry is widespread and deep. Walmart was responsible for 38 percent of Lions Gate Entertainment’s (NYSE:LGF) disc sales, which includes movies, TV shows, and soundtracks. Walmart also formed a partnership with Warner Bros. (NYSE:TWX) in order to sell tickets ahead of the release of Man of Steel –one of the summer’s most anticipated blockbusters. Tom Cruise’s appearance is likely spurred by his and Paula Wagner’s 30 percent stake in United Artists.
On the music side, Kelly Clarkson is one of Walmart’s “featured artists,” which results in an important spot on its “Soundcheck” Web store and premium shelf space in stores around the country. Walmart provides a space on Soundcheck for featured artists to display performance videos, trivia, photos, and other special features. Along with Clarkson, some of the biggest names in music are featured, including Demi Lovato and Bon Jovi.
Publicity, however, is the annual event’s most powerful asset for Hollywood’s biggest names. Celebrities use the event in much the same way they use talk shows and interviews. It is free publicity on the biggest stage. And with the entertainment industry’s strong ties to Walmart, they won’t be going anywhere soon.
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