Someday Target Corp. will be a case study in both public relations sections of MBA programs and in political science courses. The latter as an early incident in the post-Citizens United Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance and corporate free speech; the former as a cautionary tale in runaway PR and transparency.
As it nears the one-year mark since Target made a donation to a Minnesota conservative political action group, the retailer continues to suffer negative publicity, even when it’s not at fault.[more]
Last July, Target donated $150,000 to a US political action committee supporting a candidate with extremely anti-gay views. This resulted in a PR firestorm for Target, including a boycott. Eventually, other opportunistic political action groups like MoveOn.org smelled the blood in the water and piled on for a little free publicity of their own.
Target apologized for hurting the feelings of gay consumers (not to mention its gay employees), and promised reforms. In February of this year, the retailer announced the new reforms. Herein is Target’s first problem.
Target’s “reforms” actually make its political giving process less transparent than it was before. Target’s new standards include a new “Policy Committee” that will review political donations. But Target refuses to divulge exactly who makes up the policy committee. Seeing as the brand recently donated, through its PAC, to more anti-gay equality politicians, gay consumers are wondering why all the secrecy. Target’s is essentially asking the community to now “just trust us” at a point far too late in the brand-consumer trust relationship.
Instead of more open communication, Target released a high production-values video on diversity (top). It’s not a good sign for the brand that the video has far more negative votes than positive ones.
Target’s continuing PR problems with ay consumers have resulted in the brand shouldering unnecessary blame on two recent occasions. A California judge recently ruled in favor of a gay rights group that had been collecting signatures outside Target locations. Despite a longstanding rules against all solicitors, Target’s lawsuit against the group was seen as anti-gay, instead of what it was: company policy.
Then, during a recent press event at a San Francisco mall where a new Target store is opening, a blogger for the LGBT site Queerty was denied entrance under questionable circumstances. The denial was issued by the mall in question, and not Target, and an apology was issued, but the incident was again bad PR for the retailer with a community of consumers now distructful of the brand.
Both of these blows came after the much publicized fallout with Lady Gaga over the brand’s “corporate culture” (read: refusal to let the rainbow-flag waving pop tar have a say in its LGBT dealings in exchange for an early window to sell her new album).
Many have reasonably argued that Target is bearing undue scrutiny for a brand that still does support equality within its own company. Others argue that its exactly because Target benefits from the gay consumer dollar that it deserved more criticism.
It is difficult to tell just how much, if any, impact that consumer boycotts have had on Target sales. The retailer reported a recent sales increase, even though it missed Wall Street projections.
Yet, Target did recently score a bit of a coup in its image battle within the gay community. In a telling segment on the influential comedy news program The Daily Show, a correspondent investigated how San Francisco has lost to the new “top gay city” in America, Minneapolis.
The bit, joking about the “old gays” of San Francisco and the “new gays” of Minneapolis, features the latter couple strolling through a Target aisle.