Did you eat your Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich today?
In case you’ve been living under a rock lately, today — August 1, 2012 — has been declared Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, and by now you probably already know the reason it came about.
Chick-fil-A, founded by S. Truett Cathy in the early 1960s, makes no bones about the Christian principles on which the company is run (it is the only national fast-food chain that is closed on Sundays — enabling employees to attend church, while the company gladly foregoes many millions of dollars of lost revenue as a result). Indeed, the company’s official statement of corporate purpose states that the business exists, “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that Dan Cathy — Chick-fil-A president and son of the company’s founder — was widely reported in the media as publicly speaking out against gay marriage. (In reality, it wasn’t exactly like that. Cathy actually said, "We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.") This then led to a rapidly cascading series of events, which included Jim Henson’s Muppets cutting ties with Chick-fil-A, the mayors of Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco announcing their opposition to any Chick-fil-A stores opening in their cities, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s promotion of today’s Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, and most recently, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s (GLAAD) support of a "National Same-Sex Kiss Day," encouraging same-sex couples to show up at Chick-fil-A restaurants nationwide Friday to hold kiss-in’s.
Whew! Since when did buying a chicken sandwich become a political statement?
Unfortunately, when company owners and executives speak out publicly on an issue, it can become a lightning rod that can potentially damage the brand, the company, and ultimately the employees, suppliers, and others who have a stake in the business.
This is not good.
While I stand 100 percent behind the right of company owners or executives to say whatever they want about anything they like, weighing in on volatile, politically charged issues such as gay marriage has the potential to create lasting damage to the brand, the company, and its stakeholders. While the Chick-fil-A corporation has been doing its best to try to back away from Dan Cathy’s remarks — stating in a press release yesterday that "Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena." — it cannot undo the damage that has been done, and will continue to be done, to the company’s image and bottom line as this controversy rages on.
In this case, Dan Cathy’s statement was too much information, and company leaders should think twice before they publicly opine on issues that are highly charged and bound to create a negative reaction.