Monday, September 10, 2012

Chick-Fil-A, PR and the Power of Social Media

I was interviewed by the Kansas City Fox affiliate yesterday about the effects social media can have on spontaneous protests in cases such as the Chick-Fil-A/gay marriage (and divorced straight marriage too!) dustup. The clip covers my responses to the reporter's questions about the credibility social media can lend to a cause, and to the amped-up emotions of a political season contributing to even more furious social network activity.

On to the more general aspects of the controversy:

The basics are that Chick-Fil-A (a fast food chicken restaurant with more than 1600 locations nationwide) CEO President Dan Cathy made some statements of support of what he terms "traditional, biblical marriage" in a religious publication:

"We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that."

Many gay and (some divorced straight people) took offense, and protests have sparked. (Click here to get up to speed on this issue.)

Chick-Fil-A issued a statement July 19 stating "going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena" and that it is their intent "to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect -- regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender." That didn't seem to be enough for protestors, who started a boycott.

Obviously, I believe business owners should be true to their beliefs and (judiciously) speak their minds. However, I would never advise my client that it's okay to make potentially inflammatory statements in any public way. Why risk alienating customers? Perhaps CEO President Dan Cathy felt that as he was speaking to a religious publication radio show, therefore a non-mainstream "friendly media outlet," and didn't think his comments would be picked up by anyone else. If so, that's extraordinarily naive.

The cynical among us may posit that Cathy wanted to strike a blow in the culture wars. If so, this lends more credence to my belief that he will not fold amidst the storm of protest. Let's not forget huge numbers of people have publicly supported Cathy and Chick-Fil-A on "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day." Opportunistic politicians on both sides (look here and here for just a couple examples) have jumped on the issue for some election year media attention, too. (Some polling indicates Chick-Fil-A should ask their political supporters to quiet down.)

Despite boycotts, the death of his PR chief and bad press, I doubt Cathy will budge. As I said in a previous interview about the first Chick-Fil-A/gay controversy, I think the growing chicken empire will stand their ground.

*From the 2011 Ragan article:
Don’t expect that Chick-fil-A will respond further on this issue, Greenwood says.

“It’s not surprising when you consider that this company, as a matter  of principle, leaves so much revenue on the table by being closed on  Sundays,” he says. “They stick to their guns. I think they’re going to  continue to play to their base, weather this storm and move on.”

*(Full disclosure: I worked at Chick-fil-A in high school.)


Stay tuned, though. These things can move faster than a rooster in a hen house!
--Alex Greenwood
UPDATE  Aug. 3, 2012: Please note corrections marked with strikethroughs.

Cross posted with the AlexanderG Whiz Pr Blog

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