Target is known for many things. Consumers recognize the retailer's iconic red and white branding. Manufacturers understand that the company is the world's seventh largest retailer. And now, bloggers know that Target's public relations department "does not participate with nontraditional media outlets."
The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/28/business/media/28target.html) reported earlier this week on one blogger's attempt to get the Target PR team to respond to a request for comment. Instead of a comment, however, the blogger received the "does not participate" message. While Target's decision not to deal with bloggers is questionable, what's most interesting is the company's reasoning: It doesn't have the resources.
Noting that the company has a small public relations team, a spokesperson told The New York Times, "We want to make sure we are making an educated decision and we live up to any promises we make, in terms of service."
I'm actually not surprised that Target has a small public relations team. Major retailers effectively utilize advertising to get their message to consumers across, and well-established retailers such as Target tend to believe that their most effective means of promotion is simply to let the prices and products they carry speak for themselves.
By contrast, technology companies such as Microsoft employ numerous outside PR firms, while Yahoo!'s in-house PR department is of epic proportions. Many manufacturers often employ just a few PR professionals and support staff, and service-related industries such as airlines have robust, but not overbearing, PR departments.
The luxury for Target is that the company, which generates more than $60 billion in revenue and almost $3 billion in profits annually, is that it can decide whether or not it wants a big PR department. Obviously, it has decided to keep the department small and, despite the negative ink regarding its dealings with bloggers, the company's PR department appears to do a very good job (especially when compared to rival Wal-Mart).
Unfortunately, what is a luxury at Target is the cold, hard truth at many organizations. My company, for example, has exactly one person dealing with PR issues - me.
I do all the pitching, handle all of the inbound media requests, prepare all of the press releases, train all of our editors and analysts on how to speak to the media - and I actually do about 95% of the interviews myself. Today alone, I spoke to a wire service reporter on a breaking news story, an online journalist, and a foreign newspaper reporter all before noon. I also have a radio interview at 7:00 PM EST tonight.
It has taken me a while to get a handle on dealing with my limited resources and all of my PR duties, but I have come up with some simple rules to get me through the day.
1. Prioritize: Certain media outlets will get my undivided attention because they reach my company's target audience. I give these media outlets preferential treatment because I'd trade one piece of ink from them for ten pieces of ink from other media outlets. They get responses first and I work closely with them to ensure they receive the information they need as quickly as possible.
2. Be Honest: I ask that journalists be patient and understand that we don't have a large PR department. I am very upfront about when I can go over details with people (my company is in the business of analyzing data, so I often have to spend a long time on the phone explaining things) and try to get the journalist to work around my schedule, not his or hers. This may not work with every journalist, but I have to prioritize who gets my time and when they get it.
3. Plan: At the end of each week, I create a PR plan for the following week. I sketch out what I hope to accomplish and when I hope to do so. I create a schedule where I set aside blocks of time to make/return calls and send/reply to emails. I also ask certain co-workers about their schedules and whether they will be available to help. Stuff happens and I can't always stick to the schedule, but just putting it together helps me maximize my time each week.
4. Always Be Working: When I have some downtime at work, I update my PR lists, template pitches, boilerplates, etc. I'd rather do this when I have some time to spare than on-the-fly when I need to get something out the door. Advanced preparation is huge when you have slim resources. It will save you a lot of time and stress.
5. Interns: I hired an intern last year and will do so again this year. My intern proved to be a valuable resource as he helped write and distribute press releases and prepare me for various interviews by collecting data and information. He was inexpensive and a huge help, especially when I had to do a series of television appearances over a four-day period. He got important experience, a stipend and college credit out of the deal.
6. Remember, It's a War, Not a Battle: It took about six months for us to start generating the type and quantity of PR that we wanted to generate. I was lucky because my bosses understood that because of the limited resources they gave me, we would need to build up our PR profile and not try to go for the gold immediately. Our patience has been amply rewarded.
Last year, my company doubled the amount of ink it received compared to 2006, scoring over 500 press hits, including eight television appearances and more than two dozen articles in The Wall Street Journal, our key media outlet. We did this utilizing a part-time PR person, a lot of common sense and just a little elbow grease. There's no reason that even a one-person PR team shouldn't be able to match those results on a comparable basis.
Ben Silverman is currently the Director of Research for InsiderScore, an investment intelligence service. Previously, Ben was a business news columnist for The New York Post and the founder/publisher of DotcomScoop.com. He can be reached via email at bensilverman (at) gmail.com.
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