Blog written by Shawn M. Kahle, APR

Target, one of America’s darlings of retail hip, is rethinking its long-standing policy of not talking to “non-traditional media” such as trade titles and blogs.  They’re increasing the number of corporate spokespeople and getting a better understanding of the current news sources of their core guests.

I must admit I was surprised to learn their policy was still in effect.  Though, I could empathize with their comments to PR Week that “our policy was due to the limited number of resources we’’ve had previously… we just don’t want to make any decisions we can’t follow up on.”

How’’s that for honest! Not overly defensive, not positioned to spin but a realistic comment that says: ““Times are changing and we need to change with them – we just don’t know if we can keep up!””

For companies, like individuals, change rarely comes without a moment of truth, – a crisis, an event that grabs headlines, or kicks us in the gut. 

Target caught the wrath of the blogosphere and the New York Times after sending a youth marketing blog a standard statement — “we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with nontraditional media outlets.”

Doing media relations for a national retailer is an intense, high-volume endeavor that is unrelenting and calls for the best of talent and stamina.  There are corporate issues – financial, civic, strategic, competitive, governance, legal – as well as myriad product inquiries crossing multiple categories and industries.  Celebrities bring amazing opportunities and quirks of their own.  Thousands of local “NIMBY” or labor issues grab headlines quickly and frequently without much warning.  Nature’s rage can wipe out a store in moments or convert it to a refuge for survivors.  Guests come first yet sometimes service falls short.  And then, there are just the crazies and criminals – who walk through the doors of Lane Bryant or Von Maur and kill clerks and shoppers in a blood bath of anger.

One of the most amazing professional opportunities I enjoyed was leading a team of media relations and communication professionals for Kmart Corporation.  Every day someone said, “We ought to write a book!”  I wish we had.  There were many weeks that we fielded hundreds and hundreds of calls every day – and that was when the Internet and ecommerce were in their infancy.  National nameplates draw big interest and present huge challenges that either kill you or make you stronger.   

In times when too many media relations departments are denying the power and reach of social media, Target deserves a lot of credit for recognizing it’s time to change – to figure out how to do it all and do it well.