Target's Response to the Security Breach

Target-logo-v.-1Giving new meaning to Black Friday, an unknown number of credit card numbers were stolen from almost all of Target's 1,797 U.S. stores. The security breach seemed to happen through Target's point-of-sales terminals, where credit card information is collected. For students of business communication, perhaps the worse offense is Target's response to the incident. 

Target was too quiet for too long. When the news became public, customers reported being unable to reach the company through its call center and website. With information stolen from 40 million credit and debit cards, that's a lot of affected customers. A Forbes article criticizes Target's response as a "PR mistake," particularly for "burying the lead" in its website message to customers

"...the question of whether it is now safe to use your credit card at the company's stores is relegated to the fourth question of a FAQ at the end of a 1,500 word statement.

"So after eight minutes of reading time, Target finally answers the question on everyone's mind directly: Has the issue been resolved?"

The writer has a point: compare Target's messages to emails from companies after a security breach in 2011, and you'll see a big difference. In those emails to customers, companies were clear about actions to take: don't respond to emails that appear to be spam. 

The CEO's video message is divided into several parts on the company's media website. Here's the first part:  

Discussion Starters: 

  • Analyze the CEO's video message: delivery, organization, and content. What works well, and what could be improved? 
  • Compare the CEO's written message and his video message. What similarities and differences do you notice, and how is each appropriate (or not) for the medium?
  • Prepare advice for Target's senior management team to improve their crisis communications. What are four or five communication principles should they be sure to follow in the future?