What follows is an edited transcript of Billboard Editorial Director Bill Werde's interview with Target Vice President of Public Relations Dustee Tucker Jenkins, regarding the company's partnership with Lady Gaga to release an exclusive edition of the singer's forthcoming "Born This Way" LP.
WERDE: During my interview with Lady Gaga, I said, "I think some people are confused about your deal with Target, because the company has a track record of financially supporting some politicians who haven't been so friendly to the issues of some of your fans, and yet that's who you ended up doing a retail deal with. I think it would be meaningful if you wanted to address it." She said, "Part of my deal with Target is that they have to start affiliating themselves with LGTB charity groups, and begin to reform and make amends for the mistakes they've made in the past. And that was one of the most intense conversations I've ever had in a business meeting. I wasn't comfortable with it at first. But [manager] Troy [Carter] and I sat down with them and we had a wonderful meeting. I don't want to say too much, but I can say that our relationship is hinged upon their reforming the company to support the gay community and to redeem the mistakes they've made in the past in supporting those groups." So that's pretty specific: She said she had a conversation with the entire executive group, she said her relationship with Target is hinged upon reforming the company to support the gay community, and to redeem the mistakes they've made in the past in supporting those groups. I don't believe she's really spoken about this before, and I want to make sure that we properly contextualize it, that we represent it fairly.
JENKINS: We appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight. I can talk about what she said specifically. But maybe let me take a step back and just help you understand. As you know, Target has partnered with a variety of different artists: the Black Eyed Peas, Keith Urban, Taylor Swift [among others]. So we've partnered as a company with a variety of different artists, and we're constantly looking for artists that appeal to our shoppers -- we call our shoppers "guests." And when you look at who our guests are, that represents a variety of different perspectives, types of music, and one thing that we really appreciated about Gaga from the beginning is that her fanbase is unmatched. Target as a company has had a strong commitment to fostering an [equitable] culture, and we look to promote diversity in everything we do. So understand that we are a company with 350,000 team members across the United States. So at the heart of that company are various perspectives, various backgrounds. And someone like Lady Gaga showcases a broad range of those different hearts and minds of our guests, as well as our team members. So we were thrilled about this opportunity to do the partnership.
We've also as a company had a long history of giving back to our community. We give 5% each week back to our communities in various forms, and that equates to about $3 million a week. So it's a sizable amount for any corporation, and it's been a commitment that we've had since the company's founding. We have recently said internally that we have always supported various organizations within the LGBT community, but we have committed to almost half a million dollars already for 2011. So, and I can give you some of the groups specifically that we're supporting. And that's Project 515 …
WERDE: You've committed almost half a million dollars so far in 2011?
JENKINS: Yes. That's what we've committed for 2011 thus far.
WERDE: To various LGBT groups?
JENKINS: Yes. Project 515 is one of those. It's a Minnesota-based organization dedicated to ensuring that all families are equally valued and respected under Minnesota law.
WERDE: But at the same time it seems to me, if you're going to make donations to Project 515, at the same time you're going to make donations to politicians, to senators and congressmen and -women who actively campaign on and vote against those very same issues. Doesn't that feel like it's a purely political act? Like you're covering all your bases but there's no meaning behind it? If you're going to hand a chunk of money to 515, but then you're also going to fund the politician who's going to vote against them, what's really the meaning of that?
JENKINS: Let me give you a little bit of insight into what we've done just in the last couple of months. During and immediately following the 2010 election cycle, which is when many of these issues came up, we did a review of our entire political giving policy and practice process. Part of this review, we established a new committee, which we're calling a policy committee -- it consists of our most senior executives.
WERDE: Does that include the CEO [Gregg Steinhafel]?
JENKINS: [In a follow-up e-mail, the company said: "In forming the new Policy Committee, Target wanted to ensure the right representatives were involved from across the entire organization. The proposed committee was reviewed and approved by the board in mid January and the committee will begin convening quarterly, and intermittently as needed. To clarify, Gregg Steinhafel, our CEO, is not a member of the policy committee. However, as noted on the site, he, along with our Board, will play a role in balancing our business interests with any other considerations that may be important to our team members, guests, or other stakeholders."]
And what they're going to be doing moving forward is they're going to be reviewing our decision-making when it comes to political giving. So we are confident across the board that this additional oversight will demonstrate our intent to be more thoughtful in our political giving moving forward. So it's a new process for us. It will guide, again, the decision making related to any financial support of political activity.
WERDE: When did that start? I read in a couple of reports online that you continued to make some of these donations to some politicians that I think Lady Gaga's fans would be very unhappy to know you were donating to.
JENKINS: Well in terms of when it started, it literally would have gone up on our Corporate Responsibility Report website within the last week. So it's a process that we started considering during the 2010 US election cycle. I don't know if you followed the issue back then, but at that point we said that we wanted to take a moment to conduct a very thoughtful review of our process. So that's really the language that [Steinhafel] used in his letter to team members on this issue. That was to look at how we can do better as a company, to really commit to doing this in a way that makes sense for our team. Considering that our team has varying perspectives on this issue, in a way that makes sense for our business, and a way that makes sense for the company overall. We took a review of that process and then this went to the board in January.
So this is something brand new that we're doing for 2011, so the committee has had, or is having their first meeting. They will guide decision making related to all financial support of political activity. So that's a review of our process that wasn't in place before. And again, we just believe that this additional oversight will demonstrate our intent to be more thoughtful. I can't speak to those specific donations, but I can certainly look into how and why. Minnesota Forward, [a political group, which received a substantial donation from Target, that supported a Republican gubernatorial candidate who opposed gay marriage] the concern around that one that so many had was that that was a corporate donation, a donation on behalf of Target. We understood and appreciated and recognized that we did not understand when we made the donation, the impact that it would have, and we regret that. We regret not understanding that and as part of learning, we've done a review of our process and we intend to be more thoughtful as we move forward.
WERDE: I'm sorry to be persistent on this. I just want to make sure I understand the issues. There were a flurry of reports online about Target sort of continuing to donate to anti-gay candidates after the Minnesota Forward incident. Thousands of dollars were donated to [Idaho Senator] Michael Crapo and [Washington Representative] Dave Reichert, both supporters of anti-gay constitutional amendments, and [Congressional candidate] Rob Portman, a supporter of banning gays from adopting. In October, they donated $2,000 to [California Representative] David Dreier, who is anti-gay rights, September 22, there was word of a maximum donation given by Target of $5,000 to [Minnesota Representative] John Kline, an anti-gay equality candidate, which was in addition to the $2,500 they had already given to his primary campaign. You did give some money to supporters of gay rights, there are a couple in there. So I guess it seems like it continued through a certain point, at least through the end of last year, through the political season of last year in 2010.
JENKINS: What I can talk to you about is what we're committed to doing as we move forward. I can tell you that if you look at our past giving -- what I can speak to is what I know about it and that is that we split almost equally between Democrats and Republicans. For 2010, it skews higher towards Democrats, for a number of reasons. But there were more Democrats in office so we skewed at ... I believe it's 51% Democrat to 49% Republican. We as a company strive to be right in the middle of that. It's important to us to represent the various perspectives of the team. We want to be thoughtful moving forward. The other thing that we've done is we met with various people across the country to say, "Help us understand what you want for Target. Help us understand this issue." We've done a series of meetings with corporate leaders throughout the U.S. to further the dialogue around inclusiveness and identify ways where we can better support the initiatives within the LGBT community. So, that is in addition to the own process that we did internally, the review. We met with various leaders to say, "Help us understand where we can be better."
WERDE: One of the things I want to make sure I have complete clarity on is that, on one hand it sounds like you're saying, "We want to be more thoughtful. We want to bring some thoughtfulness to our decisions about who we invest in." But on the same time, you're a big corporation and it sounds like you know, you need to kind of cover your bases. You were talking about "there's this many Democrats, there's this many Republicans and we want to spread that money out strategically to make sure we have the support we need across parties." Those two things don't necessarily confine themselves being mutually exclusive, if you understand what I mean?
JENKINS: That's why we've instituted this policy committee that will review our practices to make sure that each and every time we're making a decision, we're carefully weighing all the different issues around that decision.
WERDE: But you can't say, for example, that Target's not going to donate money in the future to a candidate who would vote against gay rights.
JENKINS: No, but what I can say is that, again, we're going to ensure that we use this political committee -- our guest policy committee, excuse me -- to ensure that we're being more thoughtful. Though I don't know their criteria -- they haven't shared that with me - it's individuals who represent a variety of different perspectives and areas of the business, so they're going to use their better judgment: what they bring to the table, their business needs, and their issues at hand and they're going to weigh those decisions and make a decision that's in line with the company across the board. In terms of how you're trying to frame it up, understand we apologized that we did not recognize the impact that this donation had. So that's where we started. And we want to be thoughtful as we move forward. So what we did was, we then conducted this review and we established a policy committee. We then went out and met with various groups to say: "Where can we be better with in the LGBT community?" We held our first meeting several weeks ago in San Francisco. We are really trying to get input internally, externally, from various individuals to have different perspectives on this issue. And want Target to understand how better to dialogue around the issue of inclusivity.
WERDE: Can you tell me who you met with, for example, in San Francisco?
JENKINS: [In a follow-up e-mail, the company said: "A variety of executives from Target, and representatives from nationally- and locally-based LGBT organizations met recently in San Francisco. Unfortunately, we cannot share the names of those included in the meeting, as it was a private meeting."]
In terms of what we've done as a large corporation, establishing a committee to review the policies and practices that we're putting in place around this issue was critical to our success. We had that whole process reviewed and approved by a board. And -- as I said -- we wanted to be thoughtful, given that we were coming off of that election cycle which was decided in November. So that starts our 2011. We're now in February, this is up on our site -- it was up on our site, it's in our corporate responsibility report and it speaks to what this process is about, so it can give you a little bit more detail if you want to look there. And we just added the information about this policy committee to the report, to speak to this practice.
WERDE: She said, "I wasn't comfortable with [a Target deal] at first." How do you feel about the fact that someone like Lady Gaga, who you've said is such a great fit for your guests and for your broad constituency of employees, how does Target feel about the fact that there was this lack of a comfort at first?
JENKINS: You mean on her part? What I would say is we very much appreciated the conversation and the dialogue with her and her team all along the way. They've been a wonderful partner in this and they certainly shared their feedback; they engage with us on a variety of different issues which she personally has concerns or has feedback that she wants to share with us so we very much appreciated that entire process. Certainly we have shared with them what I shared with you and that is that we have already committed to almost half a million dollars for 2011 to various organizations so some of those are national like Out and Equal Workplace, Twin Cities Pride is a local group, Project 515 is local, so we shared that with her as well. None of that is new for Target. If you look back at the company's long history, promoting inclusivity is what we have done from the very beginning.
WERDE: I hear what you're saying. I just want to understand the math. You said you've committed half a million dollars in 2011, but now when I think about the numbers, you also said that you're giving $156 million a year as a company back to community efforts. So, half a million dollars in the context of $156 million dollars a year -- it's not my position to judge how you spend your money but just mathematically, that's not a very substantial amount. Do you see that differently?
JENKINS: What I would say here is this is a very important issue to Target. So when you're a company, as I mentioned, [with] 350,000 [employees with] many different diverse perspectives ... You know, I have an interview that I can also share with you, if you're interested, in reading it from one of our LGBT leaders who was recently interviewed around this issue and he provided a lot of personal insights and perspectives. He happens to be a member of the LGBT business council as well. He talks about when this issue first happened, what this process was like from his perspective. So, I think that that might shed some light.
But what I was saying was that this is something that we, as a company, are considering and taking very -- it is part of our hearts to care about this issue. It's who we are. Around this, we've established this policy committee because we understand the importance of decisions like this one and we want to be more thoughtful. We said that we're giving almost half a million dollars already in 2011 because we want to demonstrate our commitment to the LGBT community. And we've conducted these meetings -- across the country we're meeting with people to say, "Tell us what we can do to better support initiatives within the LGBT community." So we're listening, we're learning, we're recognizing where we have opportunity and we're making changes within our organization. In my mind, that demonstrates a commitment.
WERDE: Sure, I just want to get as much sort of factual evidence of that evolution as I possibly can. I don't doubt that you are sincere when you talk about your commitment to this issue. I just want to report on what is happening and it sounds like some things are happening.
JENKINS: Definitely. And you know, what I would say to you is that we're constantly looking to learn. As an organization, as a team, we're constantly looking to learn. We have an LGBT business council who help inform and guide our decision making as a corporation, so we have long provided same-sex partner benefits but we're constantly looking at how we can do a better job as a company. We're constantly saying, "How can we better engage on this issue?" "What groups nationally should we support?" So it's a place where we're working to learn and grow and be thoughtful as we move forward. And you had mentioned the word "thoughtful." I use that word because it's important to us that we do this the right way: the right way for our team, the right way for our guests. We recognize that this is an issue that's important to us and important to so many.
WERDE: I think because it is important to a lot of people and it does touch an emotional current with a lot of people, I think this has been a very good conversation. To me, the corporate perspective of, "Well we made a mistake, we want to study it, we want to learn more about it and we're going to commit to making 'X, Y and Z' changes" is very refreshing. Now, of course, the rubber hits the road with those "X, Y and Z" changes. Up until then, it's a lot of talk, it's a lot of positioning and perhaps completely well-intentioned discussion. But then it's like, "Okay, what are the donations? When is this meeting? Where are the changes happening? How much money will continue to be donated to PACs and the politicians that are anti-gay?" And it strikes me that it's a difficult road to walk for any organization or any corporation where it's expected that you're going to support a lot of different politicians.
JENKINS: I think you raise a fair point. What I would say is that every single day, I'm proud to work for Target for a number of reasons. But we're not a company of talkers -- we're a company of doers. So we talk about our commitment to our communities, and we demonstrate that every single week by giving back $3 million dollars -- 5 percent -- for better or worse, in good times and bad, which impacts the bottom line for people across the board.
WERDE: Of course. But that 5 percent includes some of these donations that some people are less happy about.
JENKINS: Political giving is not part of giving back to our community.
WERDE: So this $3 million dollars is above and beyond any sort of political contributions?
JENKINS: Correct, yes. So this would be education -- we support a number of education initiatives: the book festivals, the school library makeovers, we support Read Across America, the Target House at St. Jude. So there's a number of different initiatives that that 5 percent goes to.
WERDE: Do you have any ability to show me transparency on the percent in a 2010 report or anything like that?
JENKINS: Yes. It's not corporate responsibility reports, so if you look at that on our site, which would have information about this policy committee, and I can send you a direct link when I send you the interview with Daniel Duty, and that would enable you to see. Certainly we had talked about very publicly as a company that we are committed to education and helping more children graduate. That's what we had said with a real focus around reading efforts. This LGBT community is a part of that giving. Back to my earlier point: we don't talk, we do. So we're demonstrating our commitment here by conducting these meetings across the country, by establishing our committee, by looking carefully at this process and by giving back to groups that we know are making a difference in the LGBT community. And by talking to you, we want to share this story.
WERDE: Lady Gaga said, "I can say the relationship is hinged on reforming the company." Has Target made any changes in its policy or spending or anything as a result of these conversations with Lady Gaga? Or is it more a situation of where Gaga's feedback has been taken into the pool of feedback that you've gotten as you've evolved these policies?
JENKINS: What I would say is as we've conducted a review of our process, as we've looked overall at our support of the LGBT community, certainly her perspective was very helpful in conversations. But we've considered a variety of different perspectives along the way, and that's gotten us to where we are today.
I would just say, in closing, we're really excited to partner with her. Music is a clear part of who we are at Target; it's a big part of our brand, and we've worked with so many different artists. We're really thrilled about this opportunity, so I would just say that in closing.