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PR Lessons From Target’s Data Breach Debacle

By Jason Mudd

Even ultra-clever commercials with catchy drum beats can’t distract millions of consumers from wondering, at least a little, if they can still shop safely at Target.

This is a big problem.

Online security is something that has kept companies on their toes for years. Even company executives have long resisted doing too much in the cloud because of their concern over cyber-attacks, which result in the loss of trust from their clients. Target Corp. is currently reeling after a security breach revealed information from 40 million customer accounts.

What happened, in case you missed it: Credit card and debit card pin numbers were compromised during the holiday shopping season. The resulting storm has caused the company’s stock to plummet and tarnished the public opinion of the once hugely popular retailer.

What can we learn from Target getting a little off-target with its response?

1. Target didn’t exactly hit the ground running in its PR attempts to control the damage. Instead of coming out with an understanding statement showing a human touch, Target issued a statement that apparently came from the mouth of a lawyer or a person fresh out of an advanced degree program. What consumers really needed to hear was that the company was taking responsibility for the breach and that it was truly sorry; it would make it right to the very best of its ability and take steps to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. (Check out our “Managing a Public Relations Crisis” ebook for the Axia apology model.)

2. Some of the criticism regarding the breach has focused more on Target’s response rather than the breach itself. As of Jan. 3, Target had only released four formal statements regarding the breach. Furthermore, while the olive branch extended by Target amounted to a 10 percent reduction on store’s entire stock of goods, many believe that isn’t enough to earn back the trust of faithful consumers and that they should be willing to take a bigger hit in order to gain back customer loyalty.

3. Target’s PR team could have observed the actions of others undergoing tough times, such as the shipping debacle that hit UPS and Federal Express. Many packages mailed through these shipping giants didn’t make it to their target (pardon the pun) by Christmas Eve, reportedly due to consumer demand and poor weather. It wasn’t Amazon’s fault that the packages didn’t make it to their destination on time, but they took steps to ensure that their customers got some relief. Amazon offered to return all shipping fees to the customers affected by the mess. Target is a victim of the data breach just as much as the consumers are, but they haven’t taken the proactive steps to calm their customers.

4. Many industry insiders believe that if Target were to offer a better response to the security breach, its stock would rise. Even more important is the need for a more focused, “put myself in your shoes, shopper” response that listens to consumer concerns and treats them quite seriously. Consumers may not soon forget the incident, and may think twice about stopping for their usual Target items for many months to come. In the coming months, as affected consumers check their account security often to be sure nothing is wrong, they might also respond to ongoing messages from Target that it, too, hasn’t forgotten this problem and that this mega-business truly values their weekly business.

Companies that choose the smart team at Axia Public Relations don’t have to worry if unfortunate events will shake them off target with their audience messages in 2014. Contact Axia PR today to talk about effective crisis communication strategies to put in place now. It feels good to know you’re ready, should your business become the focus of a debacle.

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Mudd_Jason_Color_hi_res_forward_crop– Jason Mudd, APR, is CEO of Axia Public Relations. He is an Emmy-Award-winning accredited public relations practitioner, speaker, author and entrepreneur. His public relations portfolio includes work for established national and emerging brands such as American Airlines, Budweiser, Dave & Buster’s, Brightway Insurance, Florida Blue, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, It Works! Global, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Ray Charles, Southern Comfort, Verizon and more. Connect with Jason at @jasonmudd9 and Axia Public Relations at @axiapr. Be sure to tweet and share your thoughts below. We’ll read and respond to each of them.

Topics: public relations, reputation management, crisis communications, online reputation management

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