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Target's credit-card crisis goes beyond branding, security issues

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The news this past week that up to 40 million of Target customers' credit card numbers were stolen during a several-week period beginning Black Friday weekend was shocking enough. But the security and branding issues that immediately came up are merely the tip of the business iceberg.

On Friday, Forbes reported that some of the card information was being sold on online black-market sites for $20 to $100 — and our previously discussed new virtual currency, Bitcoin, was among the preferred methods of payment.

How Target handles this fiasco should be among the cases studied in college public relations and technology classes for decades to come. Yes, the company must determine how its payment security system could be compromised for weeks before anyone noticed. It must work swiftly to protect its image by being responsive and caring toward its (rightfully) concerned customers.

But what’s going to hurt Target most is the trust it has lost:

• The trust of its customers, who tend to be rather brand loyal but might not stick through having their bank accounts wiped out

• The trust of financial institutions with which it works

• The trust of its employees, who must naturally be concerned with how secure all of their own personal information is with their employer

• The trust of its sales partners, who must now worry about their own brands being sullied by association

• The trust of potential future partners, who will have the same concerns

I could go on, but you get the point.

Trust, as we all know, is one of the cornerstones of a good business relationship. Trust is inherently hard to earn and, of course, even harder to regain.

How could Target have avoided this catastrophe? By doing the one thing most of us brush aside as a waste of time: By taking the time to review its systems and processes on a semiannual basis — particularly before an especially busy season — and make sure everything was operating as it should.

It’s nearing the end of the year, and your business is likely coming into a slow period during the next two weeks. What have you been putting off checking in on that could damage nearly every business relationship you have? Now’s a great time to stop procrastinating.

The week ahead

It’s Christmas week, which means the likelihood of your getting a lot of work done is pretty slim. And this is the only week of the year when you’ll be without a print edition of the Business Journal.

If you’re into planning ahead, however, click here to check out networking opportunities coming up in January.

Speaking of January, be prepared for a slew of awesome stocks data in our Jan. 3 edition, when staff reporters Jason Scott and Mike Sadowski will take a look at 22 of the publicly traded companies headquartered in the midstate and break down their performances over the last five years. It’s an in-depth, analytical piece you won’t want to miss.

The rewind

In terms of PR disasters, what Target’s dealing with isn’t the worst of all possible scenarios. I mean, we live in the shadow of TMI, for goodness’ sake.

And then there’s the Sandusky scandal. The Exxon Valdez oil spill. The 1982 Tylenol recall.

This holiday season, remember to be thankful your company doesn’t show up in a Google search for “major PR disasters.”

Note: Editor Hope Stephan will return to writing the "Fast Forward" blog on Jan. 5.

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Amy Gulli

Amy Gulli

Amy Gulli is the managing editor of the Central Penn Business Journal. Have a question or tip for her? Email her at amy@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter, @amygulli. Circle Amy Gulli on .

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