I admit it, I have a hard time piling on communications staff in corporate America. I have been there, I am still. Every year, every quarter, you are asked to do more with less and you are serving the needs of everyone in the organization, while each of them sees themselves as the only customer you have. Still, we need to become more intelligent at conversing with the marketplace.
More than two weeks after issuing a message to Shaping Youth Founder and Executive Director Amy Jussell -- who also happens to blog -- a message that to be kind we will call unfortunate, they are at it again. And they miss the target. Ms. Jussell's inquiry stemmed from finding an image used for a 20' x 20' billboard ad suggestive. From her blog post, I imagine her request for an explanation was quite clear in its intent. It was about the provocative nature of the ad imagery.
The message she received in response however, as reported by Albert Maruggi, was less than helpful in answering the question. It did not address it at all. I know we have no time to deal with everything that comes at us during a regular day. Yet, I cannot help but wonder. See for yourself:
Good Morning Amy,
Thank you for contacting Target; unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with non-traditional media outlets. This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest.
Once again thank you for your interest, and have a nice day.
That was already a response. Someone was dealing with it. Why not direct the energy to be more personal, empathetic, human? I shop at Target, many of my friends do. And I publish online. The two are not mutually exclusive these days anymore.
PRWeek had the opportunity to catch up with Amy von Walter, senior manager of communications at Target. Ms von Walter points the arrows in her quiver at scarce resources. I sympathize with them, I really do. Could this response have been stimulated by the story in New York Times? Target Tells a Blogger to Go Away sounds harsh. And it was the NYT, main stream media. We are seeing many examples of how new media influences journalists. This was not the first story that leaped from blogs or Twitter onto the digital pages of a MSM publication.
Blame it on lack of staff, she said -- this still doesn't address the incident at all.
Von Walter said the statement was meant not to denigrate blogs, but to highlight its policy of not interacting with trade publications, therefore focusing its resources on publications that frame stories specific to its customers.
“Our response policy [was] due to the limited number of resources we've had previously…,” von Walter said. “We recognize that blogs are increasing in number, and that our core guests,” are writing and reading blogs.
She added: “We will be reviewing that blog policy going forward. We just don't want to make any decisions we can't follow up on.”
How about having a canned message being posted on dozens of blogs? It's not a matter of making decisions on the inside out, the discussions are already happening, with or without you. Tell me about the ad. Even if I wear the corporate hat for a moment, I know there was no response to the reason that prompted the inquiry.
It's rather difficult to make recommendations and influence policy when the people on the inside do not see the damage in brand reputation. Building a reputation is still viewed very much as a matter of advertising, merchandising, direct marketing, investor relations, all the activities that form the baseline and the foundation of a solid communications and marketing program. How many hours do you have in a day? Many more than you used to.
The answer does not lie in starting a blog, having a social media program -- canned responses do not work when they are not sincere. The answer really is to address the question. But maybe, just maybe, Target's communications department might want to:
- add Google Alerts to their online queries, it includes mentions on blogs. This will be a good way to see what people are writing about the company. Have the courage to read the articles and posts, think about a response, write it down. Practice using a human voice. How would you respond (not react) to a fan? Yes, I advocate the constructive and productive way.
- read blogs on a regular basis -- pick a RSS reader and start looking at blogs that cover retail, data mining, you figure it out. There are many industry-specific and niche bogs that are really good. I read a handful that apply to my day job regularly.
- listen to what is going on vis-a-vis social media -- if they are talking about a company, how is that company acting. Are they? Do a delta -- what they did well (in your opinion), what they can improve.
- prepare to act fast -- we area talking hours, not days. We have become much more resistant to waiting, two weeks is an eternity and your silence is deafening. How about saying?
Good Morning Amy,
Thank you for bringing the issue of the billboard ad in NY Times Square to our attention. We are sincerely sorry that we missed how suggestive the photography would be to a person. I am reporting your inquiry and my response to our managers with a recommendation to act on it as swiftly as we can. And I will be following up on it. I apologize for not being able to offer you more at this time. I may not be able to offer anything later. Know this -- I am listening and I hear you.
Once again thank you for being interested enough to want to talk with us.
What do you think? Does it sound reasonable? The response needs to address the question up front. I was trying to put myself in the shoes of the person writing this from the inside. It's possible that anything more might get him fired. It's possible that this might already be risky as not on policy. I do not know what Target's corporate culture is like.
I can guarantee you that communications managers and staff will need to begin to make alliances inside organizations at the highest levels to fulfill their charter -- to promote goodwill in relationships between the organization and its publics. My suggestion is to call in favors, and put good deeds in your company karma bank, because you will need all of it. In many cases, you may have to start proposing that the company act a bit out of character/policy. Congratulations, social media has just become part of your curriculum.