Anybody who has ever taken a close look at Chick-fil-A knows that it is a company whose culture is heavily influenced by the Christian beliefs of its key executives, namely CEO &Chairman S. Truett Cathy, and President & CEO Dan Cathy. The company is closed on Sunday – a rarity in the world of fast food – and the Cathys have long been open about their beliefs. So it really should have come as no surprise that when interviewed by Baptist Press, and questioned about his views on marriage, Dan Cathy noted that he supported a Biblical view of marriage. This, in turn, was taken by gay marriage advocates that he was against gay marriage, and touched off a heated shouting match that led to a boycott of Chick-fil-A, a counter-movement of a “Chick-fil-A appreciation day,” and endless conversation about it.
Personally, I did not notice the furor until I saw that Jim Henson productions had pulled its toys from Chick-fil-A meals in protest over Cathy’s comments (and moreso, the Cathy’s financial contributions to groups like the Family Research Council.) What got me wasn’t that Henson had pulled out, but that Chick-fil-A suffered a couple of embarassing social media blunders from it all. First, a picture of Chick-fil-A’s spin on why the toys were pulled in the first place was less than honest. Later, Chick-fil-A was accused of creating fake Facebook accounts to deflect criticism of the chain. After that, Chick-fil-A’s VP of PR suffered a fatal heart attack, presumably from the stress of all the attention.
At this point, the issue had become a national distraction, and like heat on a boil, drew forth everybody’s opinion about it. My personal views on this issue are, to be frank, irrelevant, to our audience here. But there is a takeaway from all of this that insurance professionals would do well to heed. The first, and most superficial lesson is that it’s never a good idea to try to get tricky when dealing with a negative PR event. Chick-fil-A inflicted needless reputational damage to itself early on, not with Cathy’s comments, but with the clumsy way in which it tried to game the PR system. Bottom line: when engaging with your audience online, be honest. The Internet is the world’s largest body of self-appointed detectives. If you try to pull one over on it, you will be found out. Fact.
But really, this is just a minor note in a larger discussion. The major point here is that far more often than not, discrimination against a particular group of people is rarely good for business. This is not the same as being supportive of a particular group of people, of course, even though sometimes the two can become the same thing.
Let’s take a hypothetical example using fictitious companies. If the CEO of Mjolnir Life Insurance were to note in an interview on LifeHealthPro that he supported the definition of Ragnarok as described in Norse myth, that’s an affirmative sign of support for something. But since that same mythos in general, and the concept of Ragnarok in particular, says that giants are evil, he’s also supporting the villainization of giants. When giants find out about this, they’re likely to protest against Mjolnir Life, perhaps even going so far as the take their business over to Jotunheim Life Insurance instead. People vote with their dollars all the time, as is their right. Clearly they have done so in the situation with Chick-fil-A, both for and against.
Customers gather by the hundreds outside the Gilbert, Ariz Chick-fil-A restaurant, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012. Chick-fil-A supporters are packing the chicken chain’s restaurants as the company continues to be criticized for an executive taking a public position against same-sex marriage. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, declared Wednesday “Chick-fil-AAppreciation Day.” (AP Photo/Matt York)
I think that the best approach to take in business is simply to not present one’s politics or beliefs to the public at all. Most people take a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” toward the goods and services they buy, because if they looked hard enough, they could probably find a political or cultural reason to boycott 90% of the things they spend money on. So, folks simply agree to not ask about the company’s politics, or that of its owners, and they enjoy their chicken sandwich or sneakers or insurance or whatever.