JOHN LANDSBERG, PRINCIPAL
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Public Relations practitioners are experts at taking advantage of current events in order to generate positive publicity for clients.
After the 911 attacks, companies lined up to show their support for the War on Terror. Anything they could do for the troops and their families was fair game with the hope they would receive some media recognition for their efforts.
Whenever there is a natural disaster anywhere in the country companies are quick to jump in with monetary support, supplies and other forms of assistance. They have learned their best chance for positive coverage is to announce a donation as soon as possible.
The reason for all this corporate goodwill? Obviously, to show their companies in a positive light. However, the over-riding goal should be to generate additional revenue and profits in the short or long-term.
In 2013, Target experienced a major retail disaster when it had more than 40 million credit cards compromised during the 2013 holiday shopping season. That may have resulted in the theft of as many as 110 million people’s personal information, such as email addresses and phone numbers.
After the breach, Target saw its profits fall an astounding 46 percent, according to Forbes (link). To add insult to injury, just last month the company was forced to shell out $10 million in a class action lawsuit to settle credit card claims (link).
Target needed some positive publicity and needed it quickly. A current hot issue involved transgender people after North Carolina said transgender people must use the restroom that corresponds to their birth certificate. Some performers like Bruce Springsteen immediately jumped on the issue, but no corporations had joined the fray.
Target very likely saw an opportunity to general positive publicity for its “inclusivity” by jumping on the issue. The beauty of it was there was virtually no cost for the PR effort. To offer to build unisex restrooms could cost millions of dollars. This involved no more than issuing a statement:
“We welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity,” the retailer said in a statement. “Everyone deserves to feel like they belong.”
As the company likely anticipated, initial publicity was overwhelmingly positive. The news media applauded the company for its politically correct stance on behalf of the LGBT community.
However, within days, it seemed the tide of public opinion about Target started to turn in another direction. In less than a week nearly one million customers signed a petition generated by the American Family Association saying they would boycott Target stores (Link).
Stories began to appear involving men in Target restrooms attempting to take pictures. The social media backlash to Target, particularly on the influential Breitbart News Network, was fierce.
And now it seems Target is on an island with its controversial policy. No other major retailer has jumped on the Target bandwagon. Most, like Walmart, very likely staying quiet while hoping to skim off Target customers.
Even Starbucks, considered a leader in political correctness, has not weighed in (Link).
Was Target wrong to jump on the issue? Only time will tell. It obviously did not anticipate the fierce backlash by its customer base. It most likely will not prove to be a move that will increase its bottom line.
“The decision to weigh in so strongly on such a divisive issue has to be worrying for holders of Target stock,” noted InvestorPlace. “Since the retailer’s April 19 announcement, TGT stock has dropped 6.5%.”
But of even greater concern to Target might be its new policy seems to be turning off its prime customers: women.
“The study further indicated that a growing number of shoppers — especially women — heard negative comments about the company,” said InvestorPlace. “Interestingly, brand perception of TGT is down to its lowest level in eight months.”
Companies have to be very cautious when jumping on issues for publicity. After Chick-fil-A’s CEO came out against gay marriage the LGBT community attempted a boycott of the chain. Customers responded so strongly that Chick-fil-A’s sales actually increased.
After a character on the TV show “Duck Dynasty” said he was against gay marriage the restaurant chain Cracker Barrel quickly announced it was removing all Duck Dynasty merchandise from its stores. That hasty decision was not thought through very well despite Jesse Jackson throwing his support behind the restaurant.
Cracker Barrel quickly realized it had made a huge mistake. Its loyal customers were furious and let the chain know they would be taking their business elsewhere. Within three days Cracker Barrel was forced to completely rescind its decision (Link) and ask for forgiveness.
Target was quick to publicize its restroom policy, and now the company now steadfastly refuses to reveal if the boycott is hurting sales. That will be the key whether this program is successful or not.
Target’s decision may pan out in the long run as an effective PR tactic. If sales and profits grow it will be time for high-fives in the corporate boardroom.
However, it could also be a decision its shareholders will regret for years to come. Only time will tell.
(Update: Signers to the petition have now surpassed the one-million mark. Target’s stock has lost $1.5 billion.)
Published April 28, 2016 at 10:35 am - 5 Comments Public Relations practitioners are experts at taking advantage of current events in order to generate positive publicity for clients. After the 911 attacks, companies lined up to show their support for the War on Terror. Anythin ...
In Journalism circles, having a degree from the University of Missouri was often a ticket for success. It is not only the nation’s oldest Journalism school, it is also one of the most prestigious.
When rankings for the best “J” schools in the nation are posted the University of Missouri is almost guaranteed to be in the Top 10 or Top 5. However, that may have all changed due to the actions of a single media professor during the recent student uprising at the school.
A Mass Media Professor, Melissa Click, is shown in a video asking for “muscle” to remove a student photojournalist, Tim Tai, who was working for ESPN and in a public place. It is a horrible act by a college professor and shows a total disregard for the Journalist’s First Amendment rights, which is against what the school has taught for decades.
“Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here,” says Click.
What was once a sympathetic media for the protesters has now changed with the actions of students and faculty against them.
Technically some have pointed out Click works in the Mass Media Division of the Department of Communications in College of Arts & Sciences, which is separate from the J-school. However, she is listed on the School of Journalism’s site (LINK), which tars the entire Journalism program whether it deserves it or not.
Click had earlier Tweeted out that she she was looking for coverage of the event by Journalists. Later on she is clearly leading the charge against other Journalists with total disregard for their rights to cover the event.
With the resignation of the school’s President and Chancellor the University of Missouri is clearly being painted as a college where the inmates are running the asylum. Rather than act like a Professor, Click and other faculty members have clearly shown they were behind the student protests against the administration.
If the University of Missouri doesn’t hire a crisis communications team immediately its entire image for producing quality Journalism graduates could likely be tarnished forever. If the school was wise it already had a crisis communications plan in place for such an incident, but that is unlikely.
The first move would be to remove Click. But that would be a stop-gap measure since a faculty member helping foment the disturbance was an indictment on all the faculty. The school hired her, and whether tacitly or not, approved of her actions.
A statement issued today by the Dean of the Journalism School denied she was part of the faculty and sounded as if her days as a professor at Missouri were numbered. Click has also been forced to apologize in an attempt to save her job and resigned her “courtesy” appointment to the J-School.
However, a Kansas City reporter told BLC that the protesters are refusing to speak with local reporters and will only do interviews with national media outlets. That is the kind of move that will turn sympathetic local media against them now and in the future.
It’s a bad move.
Published November 10, 2015 at 10:23 am - 5 Comments In Journalism circles, having a degree from the University of Missouri was often a ticket for success. It is not only the nation’s oldest Journalism school, it is also one of the most prestigious. When rankings for the best ...