• Trinity Carney

Target: Leaders in Corporate PR

How one company never fails to hit the bullseye

By: Trinity Carney

The logo for Target

As a kid, I used to dream of being a publicist because I thought all they did was dress nice and yell at celebrities. Today, I know this to be the farthest thing from the truth (except the looking nice part; most PR professionals definitely know how to dress up and show out.) Public relations is an everchanging, fiercely creative field; however, no professional can agree on a universal definition. Public Relations News has a definition that speaks to me as an incoming professional. A lot of PR definitions stress the importance of “good PR., but to me, PR is not just about the good, but also making the best of the bad when it inevitably comes up. According to Public Relations News, “public relations is the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or an organization with the public interest, and plans and executes a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.” The company that represents this definition the best to me is Target. As a former corporate employee, I can truly say that their public relations efforts are not purely performative. They truly care about their employees and their customers, and that is doing public relations right to me.

A Leader in Corporate Social Justice

An aspect of PR that has become popular in recent years is social involvement and justice. If there is one thing Target is a leader in, it is addressing pressing social issues. Prior to 2010s, Target’s social responsibility initiatives primarily focused on issues that didn’t ruffle feathers and that they could fix by donating money. Back when Target was still called the Dayton Company, they started a 5% community giving initiative to fight hunger, prepare for disasters and provide relief, support the arts, and help kids graduate. Today, that has increased to a $4 million weekly gift to communities around the nation. It wasn’t until the 2010s, primarily under the leadership of current CEO Brian Cornell, that Target began to publicly support social issues. Weeks before Cornell’s public transition to

An old Target store

CEO, Target and a handful of other corporations signed an amicus brief in support of marriage equality. Since then, they have been vocal in their support of the LGBTQ+ community through other initiatives, including their Pride collections during Pride Month.

Similarly, after the death of George Floyd in 2020 a Target store in Minneapolis was looted and burned. Target released a statement shortly after stating that they were committed to rebuilding that specific Target and providing more support and space for the black community and black-owned brands. While rebuilding, they met with community leaders and residents to get feedback on what ways their stores can help black families. Shortly after, Target announced that they would commit $10 million to advance social justice, rebuilding, and recovery. Since then, they have pledged $2 million in support of black-owned business and have actively worked and funded social justice reform efforts.

Public Safety Done Right

When COVID-19 first started making waves, Target responded like many other businesses by immediately providing shoppers with masks, having workers wipe down shopping carts regularly, and closing early to handle restock and cleanliness demands. Unlike many businesses however, the safety precautions Target put into place at the beginning of the pandemic are still in effect today. For added transparency, they have even shared their corporate response and what they’ve asked and required of employees. They updated their back-up care benefits to account for school and other care-facility closures to benefit their essential workers. Target has also supported the COVID vaccine and helped people get vaccinated. In mid-2020, Target announced they would offer $5 coupons to shoppers who got their COVID-19 vaccines at participating CVS at Target locations.

A Masterclass in Crisis Communication

Target is no stranger to scandal. They have had their fair share of bad days, even if they are incredibly rare. In Nov. 2013, Target experienced one of the worst scandals in their 120-year history. Hackers gained access to the full names, emails, payment information, and other sensitive Target customer data through stealing the credentials of a third-party vendor. Over 70 million people were affected by the breach and Target immediately jumped into action. Four days after Target became aware of the breach, they notified customers through a press release. In that, they offered their immediate solutions with them being:

  • Closing the hackers’ access point and removing the malware

  • Hiring an investigation team

  • Giving clients zero liability for fraudulent charges

  • Offering one year of free credit monitoring for Target customers

In the months after the attack, they kept customers updated through numerous press releases and statements. Unfortunately, this was not all that was done. When then-CEO Gregg Steinhafel admitted to the United States Senate that Target could have done more to prevent the attack, the board of directors released a statement stating that he would be stepping down. In August 2014, they announced Brian Cornell would be the new CEO. Target continues to make strides within their security division because they refuse to let such a nightmare occur again. For example, they began using the more secure chip-and-pin cards rather than just pin.

For a long time, I could not understand the unique appeal Target had towards my demographic. Since high school, the joy I get from going to Target can only compare to the excitement of going to Dave and Buster’s. As a young PR professional, I now know it is because of their amazing PR responses and initiatives. I look to them as a leader in corporate PR and branding in general.

Picture of Trinity Carney

About the author

Trinity Carney is a senior PR student at the University of Texas. She will graduate in Fall 2022 and hopes to go into film and entertainment PR.