As I pointed out last week, activism that focuses on the relationship between consumers and brands, that 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.