Alex Blaze

Lesson learned: Target's problem was public relations, not the donation itself

Filed By Alex Blaze | August 07, 2010 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: business journal, pr, shopping, Target, tom emmer

As I pointed out last week, activism that focuses on the relationship between consumers and brands, comrade-emmer.jpgthat depends on personal lifestyle changes instead of government action, won't accomplish any major goals. I don't say that because I want to stop people from engaging in boycotts and letter writing campaigns and demos in front of stores, but because we should be clear that those tactics aren't enough.

Looking specifically at Target's donation to MN Forward, some of the inadequacies are already apparent. If Tom Emmer were gay-friendly, would people be protesting? Why are people less mad at Best Buy, which donated $100K to MN Forward, but not mad at all at Polaris and Securian, which also donated? Why are corporations like the Red Wing Shoe Company and Cold Spring Granite still donating to MN Forward, even after watching all this outcry against Target? And how long can this last if every corporation gets the blood of rightwing donations on its hands?

In a few years, these sorts of donations will be normalized. And the consulting industry (of course) is already creating PR solutions to Target's woes so future brands:

Be prepared to respond

If a company is going to make a contribution to a political organization like MN Forward, it should be prepared to respond to criticism.

"Contribution decisions need to be made at the senior levels of the company and with a full discussion of the pluses and minuses," said Jon Austin, a Minneapolis public relations consultant who specializes in crisis communications. "And, when the criticism erupts, the company has to be prepared to respond quickly -- in the same news cycle -- with a well-developed explanation of why it made the decision it did."

Best Buy, for example, has focused on the business reasons behind its decision.

"Best Buy's political giving strategy is based solely on the need to help elect candidates who will make jobs and economic issues a top priority this election," spokeswoman Susan Busch said.

Blois Olson, executive vice president of Bloomington-based Tunheim Partners, recommended that companies put their political expenditures into perspective by discussing the broader range of contributions they make on an annual basis.

"Companies should talk about giving on a macro basis and not allow themselves to get caught talking about it on a micro level," he said. "That's what supports their brand, and then MN Forward is just a tiny sliver of that."

That's the approach St. Paul-based Securian Financial Group Inc. took, defending its $100,000 contribution to MN Forward while noting it is "only one of a wide range of activities" the company supports.

"The bottom line is that job growth and economic development are more important to Minnesota than ever," Securian CEO Bob Senkler said in a statement.

Sure, it's primitive and mostly a regurgitation of PR 101, but give it a few years and it'll develop. There will be seminars and books on how to donate without alienating consumers, each mentioning Target to market their advice.

And it's all about lying to people to get them to keep on giving their money to these corporations. One of my first lessons from blogging a few years back was that these corporate PR people will lie - not bend the truth or omit details or exaggerate, but lie directly to your face. Like lie. Lie lie lie lie lie. One company's comm director told me that they had no association with a certain nonprofit on the phone, so I went and looked at the nonprofit's 990, and lo and behold, there they were, the execs of said company on the board of the nonprofit.

Or, for another example, take Securian and Best Buy saying their support for GOP gov. candidate Tom Emmer is about "jobs," even though Emmer is specifically planning to eliminate jobs in Minnesota, which would worsen the economy and further cut private sector jobs as aggregate demand decreases. It's better for these corporations since then working people have fewer alternatives, but it's not better for the rest of us. (It's why I got stuck on Target's apology yesterday, since the CEO said, "Our decision affected many of you in a way I did not anticipate." He didn't apologize for the ways he did anticipate, like taking money from schools, kicking poor people out of their homes, and cutting jobs.)

The Business Journal article continues with more advice for businesses, holding up Best Buy and Securian's PR strategy - which was based on lying - as a good example to follow. Since they're better at controlling messages that the people who would be negatively affected by Tom Emmer's policies would, the lies will become truthiness if we don't figure out a way to have a fair political discourse (and I'm under no illusion that overturning Citizens United will accomplish that. The system was corrupt before that decision was handed down).

Anyway, it's good that people are reacting to Target, which is just as conservative and vicious as WalMart but has generally gotten off the hook because it's harder to avoid many corporations in the same field instead of just one.

In fact, my idea for queer activism at Target would be to go there and engage in some same-sex hand-holding and tasteful affection, which would alienate homophobic customers and really annoy management (instead of other ideas that focus on annoying minimum wage earners by buying a bunch of stuff and returning it and making them reshelf it). Even if it does nothing to change Target, think about the queer children who might be at the store shopping with their parents who may need to see something different to realize that they're not the only ones in the world.

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Demand Equality Demand Equality | August 7, 2010 11:06 AM

Who exactly is lying?

Lie number one is believing that Target and Best Buy donating campaign funds to the GOP is not good for their business. The only way they can be ensured to continue selling cheap products made by slave labor is by donating to politicians who will allow them to sell slave-made products. Of course this includes Democrats, which is why they also donate money to them, too.

Wait wait before you get on me about how we cannot worry about the rest of the world, or be concerned about fact that children are chained to tables putting together the cheap crap we buy, or that Chinese workers are dying from the toxins in the electronics they make, or worry about the undocumented immigrants harvesting America's pesticide soaked crops Target sells, and how Americans need to buy cheap crap I get it.

We are only supposed to give a crap about 10 percent of those people anyway - just the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people enslaved to make the cheap crap Target and Best Buy sells.

Now if they are threatened with death because of their sexuality, then we care, but if they are threatened with death as slave labor we don't give a crap - and that's the American way.

Lie number two - Moveon.Org.
They co-opted this Target donates to antigay GOP candidates, and made it about the Supreme Court decision to allow corporations to donate campaign funds (which of course they have been doing for years). During MoveOn's Friday's faux petition deliverance to the Target headquarters (the CEO was out of town and the MoveOn dude pretended to be upset), MoveOn.org spokespeople said that what Target did was really not about gay rights at all but about corporations funding political campaigns. They shoved us onto their MoveOn bus pretending to give a crap about us, drove the we-give-a-crap-about-you bus down the road apiece, then shoved us off their bus and ran us over.

And the third lie - well that was a lie of silence where not a peep was heard by any LGBTQ leaders or bloggers about what MoveOn.org had done - which was exactly the same thing Target did - using LGBTQ Americans to further their own agenda.

Those are the only lies that are important - they are the lie down with dogs wake up with fleas lie.

Whoa! I think you're barking up the wrong tree. I don't see Alex advocating for sweatshop products or anything close. Actually the crux of his argument over several articles is that we need to take a broader view on issues of economic justice.

In 2000 (I think) I was on a panel at Creating Change in Oakland CA.

Some of the dicussion came up about the Coors Boycott of which I am an ardent supporter to this day and I pointed out how a lot of companies who portrayed themselves as gay friendly were also supporters of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

ALEC's membership is composed of members of state legislatures.

Out of ALEC flows models for much of the antigay, anti-AIDS legislation which is introduced in legislatures across the country but none of the national GLBT organizations seemed to be interested in that fact as they only seemed to be interested in the money that was doled their way.

Yesterday, someone who shall remain nameless sent me a text message to say they were going to launch a boycott of Target this week. I reminded them that the CEO had apologized already, which would weaken his case for a boycott, and that the real issue isn't remotely LGBT-related. The big issue is that Target is giving huge amounts of corporate cash to influence elections - and they're not the only one.

So what good does boycotting Target actually do? It doesn't stop them from making the donations; the amount of PR problems versus the amount of money they could possibly make with pro-business politicians in power is an easy shake out. We lose. Every time.

And then I asked, "What does a win look like? How do you declare victory? What's the goal?"

And all I got back was silence.

People are so easily fooled. It's kind of sad.