The Chick-Fil-A Fallout: Mixing Business With Politics


Chick-Fil-A's Dan Cathy
Courtesy: LA Times

With all the hoopla last week about Chick-Fil-A, the Muppets and the mayor of Boston I thought it might be timely to address politics, business and the potential fallout when the two mix unsuccessfully.

For those who live under a rock, here’s a brief rundown of what happened:

  1. Dan Cathy, President of Chick-Fil-A was quoted in an interview with the Baptist Press basically saying that he is against same-sex marriage. This sentiment was not popular with gay-rights advocates.
  2. The Jim Henson Company, whose Muppet toys were featured in Chick-Fil-A’s kids’ meals, responded by posting a statement on the company Facebook page stating that they would no longer be doing business with Chick-Fil-A and that they were giving the payment they received from the company to GLAAD (GLAAD is the acronym for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation).
  3. Thomas M. Menino, the mayor of Boston, jumped into the fray by sending a letter to Mr. Cathy, stating that Chick-Fil-A was not welcome in his city. Then he got tons of bad press (including a public scolding by New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg), so he backed off later in the week and issued another statement saying that he won’t keep Chick-Fil-A out, but also that he’s not sorry that he voiced his opinion on the matter.
  4. Every media outlet in the country (and some overseas, no doubt) was gleefully rubbing their hands together. Here was a chance to stir up some serious controversy and generate tons of content that would bide them over until the Olympics gave them something better to talk about the following week.

There is indeed such a thing as “bad press”

You may have heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as bad press.” We’ll see. Will Chick-Fil-A’s business suffer? Maybe, maybe not. But at the very least, Mr. Cathy is spending way too much time defending his position to the world when he could be focusing on creating the next great chicken sandwich.

Politics and Your Business

It should be noted that this isn’t the first time a company has created some controversy because of its stance on a divisive issue. Oreo and Target were both recently in the news (Oreo for posting a rainbow-colored cookie on its Facebook page in support of gay rights, and Target for selling a gay rights t-shirt online). Target drew ire from both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage with the campaign. Many supporters felt like Target only sold the shirts online because they didn’t want to lose any business by offering them in stores; opponents felt that Target shouldn’t carry the shirts at all.

Part of the beauty of living (and operating a business) in the United States is the ability to have and voice your opinions about issues, even when they’re highly emotional issues with people on both sides who believe that their viewpoint is the only right way to think. But should you, as the representative of your company, voice your opinions?

If you personally take a stand on an issue of importance to you, what do you have to lose? If your position is unpopular with friends, family or neighbors, voicing your opinion might damage some relationships. But if your business takes a stand on a highly-charged issue, you might lose customers. If your company is a huge behemoth like Chick-Fil-A, you might survive the press and come out unscathed. But if your company is a small, fledgling business you might not be able to afford to lose half (or more) of your customers.

Supporting Polarizing Issues

Some issues are highly polarizing. Gay rights, abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, gun rights . . . these are just a few examples of current hot-bed issues. Some may eventually be resolved in our society; some may not. But polarizing issues should be avoided if you don’t want bad publicity.

Want to give money to a good cause and publicize it without potential fallout? Give money to an organization that doesn’t have two polarized groups fighting either for or against it. Give to an organization that’s trying to cure cancer. Or that feeds the hungry. Or that saves cuddly animals. At worst, you’ll lose customers who hate cuddly animals (and do you really want cuddly-animal-hating customers, anyway?)

If you feel strongly about a polarizing issue and want to support it, but don’t want your company to suffer financial fallout, by all means give personally to your favorite organization. Just do so separately from your company and don’t make a big, publicized deal about it.

Freedom of Speech

Of course, it’s your right as an individual and as the owner of a company to publicly say whatever you want and to support any cause you feel is worth supporting. If you want to issue a press release saying that your company, “Strongly supports Big, Bad Criminals Who Kick Dogs, Rob Little Old Ladies and Steal Candy from Tiny Helpless Children and will give all of your profits to the advocacy of such criminals,” go for it. Just don’t be surprised when the mayor of your city, the muppets and the TV personalities on “Good Morning America” have something to say about it.

What do you think? Should businesses avoid voicing political opinions? Leave a comment below and let us know.