How Target’s departure helped Sears Canada change their corporate narrative

Shawna Rossi

In the days since Target announced they would be closing all their Canadian stores and leaving the market, the news media has been flooded with stories about their demise. Reporters have been looking at the story from every angle and anyone remotely associated with the retail industry has been weighing in on talk shows, news articles and blog posts with their take on what went wrong and what this means for the Canadian economy.

With so many media opportunities in the wake of Target’s announcement, many companies, subject matter experts and spokespeople used these events to offer insights, raising their own personal profile or that of their respective organizations in the process.

So how does a company rise above all the clutter and elevate their brand without appearing too opportunistic? Sears Canada did just that. The former competitor to Target Canada seized the moment by creating a thoughtful and personalized human resources program that garnered them national media attention.

Globe and Mail tweet

In a quiet media release several days after the Target news, Sears Canada announced they were extending a special offer to Target Canada employees regarding career opportunities, and opening their doors to Target Canada head office employees for a meet-and-greet with Sears executives and human resources experts. They also extended the Sears Canada employee discount for several months to all Target employees. What makes this initiative so notable is that Sears Canada is a company that has been in a similar situation as Target Canada in the past few years, announcing layoffs, store closures, executive departures and organizational restructuring.  The news media has often been negatively covering Sears while they struggle in the highly competitive Canadian market – and this has likely impacted their reputation with consumers. With so much negative news circulating about Target’s closure, this positive human interest story struck a chord with journalists. It quickly spread through online channels and social media sites.

Just as important as the publicity from the announcement, Sears Canada has changed the narrative about their organization from a struggling retail giant to a company that provides job opportunity instead of job loss. This will have a positive impact on their overall corporate reputation in Canada – and certainly with many of the almost 18,000 former Target employees who have likely become Sears Canada champions. When Target made their announcement in January, it would have been acceptable for Sears Canada to follow the lead of their other Canadian retail competitors and keep their heads down while the bad news played out. It is also plausible to consider that some of these competitors looked at how they could leverage this news for public relations win for their own organizations – but understanding that there is a fine line between opportunity and being opportunistic, they decided it would be better to keep a low profile.

This is why this simple news release and human resources gesture made by Sears Canada to Target Canada employees can be considered a smart public relations move, especially when delivered in the midst of their own business challenges. It is also a lesson for public relations professionals that ‘doing the right thing’ can be a strong communications strategy, even if the overriding intent isn’t for publicity.

Only time will tell if this program actually leads to Target employees being hired by Sears, or if the news coverage will move the needle enough on their reputation to impact their overall business success in the Canadian market. However, their initiative is an example of the right way to leverage industry news for your own organizational reputation – and how to show your company’s heart in the process.