Just days after Target announced it was pulling out of Canada, Sears Canada issued a press release inviting Target employees to apply for jobs online and offering them a store discount. It was a savvy PR move that garnered national media coverage, and could help the struggling retailer rebuild its reputation, according to PR experts.
Until this week, Sears had been in the news mainly for its own layoffs and store closures. The struggling retailer posted a $118.7 million net loss in the latest quarter and said same-store sales fell 9.5%.
“The news about Sears hasn’t been very positive as of late. They’ve had their own troubles — not quite as serious at Target — but certainly in the same vein in terms of the negative stories about their business performance, layoffs and turnover in senior management,” said Shawna Rossi, senior consultant at StrategyCorp.
With Sears’ goodwill gesture, “suddenly [the company] was being seen in a positive light and the story became about job opportunity instead of job loss.”
Rossi said aside from being a smart PR move, it was also a smart business move. “From [Sears’] perspective, it was a great chance to suddenly tap into this pool of highly trained retail sales people,” she said.
Of course, any reputation building could quickly unravel if there’s more bad news on the horizon for Sears. “It really changed the narrative, but this is just one moment in time,” said Rossi. “All the pieces of the puzzle have to be there because otherwise this just becomes some positive news coverage, and then the next piece of that news would erase it very quickly.” But if this is part of broader turnaround strategy, “then absolutely it can have a positive impact on their reputation and it’s certainly the right move,” she said.
Ronald Boire, who was recently named president and CEO of Sears Canada after holding the position on an interim basis, has said the company is in it for the long haul.
The company’s offer to Target employees “helps remind Canadians that Sears is very firmly entrenched in Canada and committed to helping Canadians,” said Andrea Lekushoff, founder and president of Broad Reach Communications.
“It’s a great example of corporate citizenship… and shows quite a bit of empathy,” she said. “There’s been a lot of bad news for the retail sector, and if there’s any way that Sears can help and lend a hand, I think sends a strong signal about their brand values.”