PR Lessons In the Chick-fil-A “Controversy”

By on Thursday, August 2, 2012

On August 1, thousands swarmed to their local Chick-fil-A restaurant to participate in former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s creation, “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day”. The event was created by Huckabee to counter recent boycotts launched by gay marriage activists after Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy said he was “guilty as charged” for not supporting gay marriage and for his donations to groups opposing marriage equality bills.

“We are very much supportive of the (the Biblical definition of a) family,” Cathy said. “We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.” Huckabee stated his goal for creating the event was simple, “Let’s affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick Fil-A on Wednesday, August 1.”

Although Chick-fil-A had no part in the creation of this financially successful appreciation day, they undoubtedly reaped the benefits. “While we don’t release exact sales numbers, we can confirm reports that it was a record-setting day,” Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A’s executive vice president of marketing, said in a statement. Many of the company’s over 1,600 restaurants had to close early and/or redirect customers to other locations due to dwindling supply.

(Glenn Baeske/AP Photo)

As a business, Chick-fil-A has refrained from involving themselves in the controversy and politics that have boiled to the surface after their CEO’s divisive comments. While the company may be positively affected by the support they are receiving right now, how will this debate affect their future expansion? Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee all have voiced their opposition in allowing Chick-fil-A to open any new franchises in their city (which is another PR controversy to discuss at a later time).

Gerald Baron, principal at Agincourt Strategies said, “Expanding to new locations—particularly out of the areas where it is now strong—will likely prove challenging, as it may draw protests and activism in those communities,” he concludes. “Chick-fil-A has become a lightning rod for anyone looking for political advantage which will further harm its efforts to escape this and go back to providing good food.” Maybe more business should take Baron’s advice, “This is not a good thing for business in general,” he says. “I would think the company would prefer people choose or not choose it based on its offerings of food, pricing, and atmosphere rather than any stand that it takes on a controversial topic.”

To add further fuel to the controversial fire, there is a planned “National Same Sex Kiss Day” at Chick-fil-A restaurants throughout the country on Friday. Robinson commented, “The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender. We understand from news reports that Friday may present yet another opportunity for us to serve with genuine hospitality, superior service and great food.”

Lost in all of the bickering and debate: Chick-fil-A’s VP of Public Relations for 29 years, Don Perry, died suddenly of an apparent heart attack last week. My condolences to his family and friends for their loss.

ABC News
Huffington Post
Chick-fil-A Corporate Website

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