Chick-fil-A: The Nightmare Continues

When I found out I would need to write a blog post about public affairs each week for my Emerson College Public Affairs course, the Chick-fil-A debacle immediately came to mind as something I would write about. And not because of the gay marriage issue (which admittedly, I care very deeply about). I want to talk about it as a public affairs issue and a corporate identity issue – which has brought about several questions that I find truly fascinating as someone who communicates on behalf of an organization myself.

We all know what happened here – here are the recent developments I will be referring to:

Due to the issues related to Chick-fil-A giving money to WinShape Foundation and other anti-gay marriage organizations, the city of Chicago was not going to allow Chick-fil-A to build there. In reaction, Chick-fil-A’s senior director of real estate said in a letter to city Alderman Joe Moreno:

“The WinShape Foundations is now taking a much closer look at the organizations it considers helping, and in that process will remain true to its stated philosophy of not supporting organizations with political agendas.”

Many perceived this to mean that Chick-fil-A would stop donating money to anti-gay marriage organizations. However, on Sept. 18, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy posted a Tweet from a fundraiser for the anti-LBGT group Marriage and Family Foundation:

This sparked outrage from people who viewed this to mean that the company was saying one thing, yet doing another thing entirely. On the flip side, the perceived promise to stop funding anti-gay marriage groups also angered their conservative consumers who stood by their side during the controversy.

In reaction, Chick-fil-A released a manifesto titled “Chick-fil-A: Who We Are” which outlined their corporate values and CSR activities.

For me, this raises a few key questions:

  • To what extent do the views of the CEO of a company impact the viewpoints of the organization in the eyes of its stakeholders?
  • Should there be consequences when a company misleads the public?
  • Is it the responsibility of the consumer to do their due diligence and research the CSR practices and values of a company, or should it be clearly spelled out by the organization?

Personally, I do believe that the views of the CEO cannot be separated from the views of the company that they lead – at least in the public sense. While I respect the right of the CEO and Chick-fil-A to have the point of view that they have (although as I mentioned above, I deeply disagree with the view in this case), they need to own up to it and embrace it. They need to be truthful and allow consumers to make an informed choice about where their money is going.

I’ve never been to a Chick-fil-A but I have talked to several friends who are from the South who explained to me that this is a true staple of southern food – and that they are actually deeply disappointed that they cannot morally enjoy one of their chicken sandwiches again (or at least until their CSR activities are shifted).

Should there be a consequence for them? Well, I definitely think they are getting a lot of unwarranted attention which clearly isn’t helpful for the company. I do believe it should go further than that. This has now become a case of business ethics that cannot be ignored. To be transparent, I don’t really have an opinion on what that consequence should or even could be – but I don’t think they should get out of this unscathed.

All of that being said, I also believe that it is the responsibility of the consumer to do their research. Writing this blog post was the first time I actually looked at different sides of the story. While I hate that Chick-fil-A supports anti-gay marriage groups, I discovered in my research that they do a lot of good for the communities they are in, especially in the fields of education and youth development – and that should not be ignored.

No matter your feelings on the issue of gay marriage, this is certainly a dynamic example of the power of public affairs.

What are your thoughts on the key questions? Do you have any other questions this has raised for you? Let me know in the comments…

2 comments

  1. Great post!

    Chick-fil-A embodies an unfortunate threshold in America where two apparently mutually exclusive sides seem to EACH feel they are not only “right,” but loving, and the other side “wrong” and not-loving. Christian conservatives that built the company provide some tremendous services for community and groups that purport to be morally driven are rarely so simple as right/wrong, love/hate, despite looking that way from a marriage equality perspective.

    The battle seems to be lost as soon as we identify “right” and “wrong” and give in to the temptation to be reductionist. (Social media can exploit that temptation, but a few more clicks often gives way to complexity.)

    As you stated, consumers ought to do a bit of research if they are interested in the social links of businesses they purchase from, but deceit is shameful. Lying to the public about the company’s CSR plans is bad PR strategy, spineless, and certainly doesn’t seem to uphold their “corporate purpose” which is to “glorify God.”

  2. Great post, and exceptionally well written! :)

    I think it’s great for the brand when a company is open and honest about what they believe. People don’t attach themselves to products anymore, they attach themselves to brands that are consistent with their philosophy because their loyalty to the brand is a statement about who they are, e.g. “I buy Apple because I believe in being the first, the most innovative, to push the status quo with the courage to Think Different.”

    Chick-fil-A’s problem is in failing to recognize how much a CEO’s (or company’s) CSR practices matter to their brand. If you are against gay marriage, then you are going to appeal to people who think like you. What matters to the consumer is not what you say, but who you are. And this ordeal has made it clear who Chick-fil-A is, more than anything they can say about themselves.

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