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PR crisis: Chick-fil-A president should know better than to comment on gay marriage

» Posted by on Jul 20, 2012

  Chick fil A

You know how you don’t talk politics at Thanksgiving, especially in an election year?

You know how all those smart wives remind their husbands that the house they’re going to dinner are staunch democrats and not to comment about President Obama?

When it comes to a divisive topic like gay marriage, Chick-fil-A’s president should know better than to chime in with his opinion.

Where was his filter? Did he lack one internally? Did his people ever advise him not to make a boneheaded move like speak publically about gay marriage?

My guess is this and I believe I am right: Everyone in his inner circle knew exactly how he felt about gay marriage. People with such strong opinions don’t hide them that well. And I am certain he spoke up about this before in other settings when media were not involved.

So what happened when he would speak up in meetings or intimate cocktail parties opining about gay marriage and how horrific it is and how wrong the country is for accepting it? Did anyone close to Dan Cathy say, ‘Hey Dan. I know you feel strongly and in this crowd it might be fine to say that, but don’t ever say that publicly! It would be really bad.”

My guess is no–no one said that. Perhaps they were afraid to say that. Sometimes people are afraid of telling powerful rich people that they can’t do something.

But isn’t that what advisers should be doing? Is it easy, no.

There’s a way to do it. There’s an art to it. But it has to be done.

If you don’t do it, it is only a matter of time before that bomb goes off.

I am not suggesting for a second that Dan Cathy be duplicitous. He should not do one thing and say another. He should not lie.

But he also should know when to say that he has his personal opinions but it’s not a good idea to speak out because he knows others have different opinions and he wants to be respectful of those other opinions and that’s why he keeps opinions to himself.

Refusing to jump into a toxic debate is a good business decision and he should have been smarter than to take the bait.

Dan Cathy has ignited the tinder box and now gay rights advocates see Chick-fil-A and its president as poster children of what’s wrong with America. The two are now the enemy.

You see how this is terrible for business?

Dan Cathy not only has risked upsetting all gay people and their families, but also his employees, who might very well have differing opinions.

It was indeed a stupid move on his part to jump into a debate that not only has stirred up trouble but one he knew or should have know he could not and would not win.

At the end of the day, we all have opinions. Dan Cathy may have strong opinions. But he should know when to express those opinions and should be wise enough to know that coming out publicly against gay marriage and condemning anyone who believes otherwise would be a huge mistake.

The pushback has been fierce and ferocious.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino is promising to block Chick-fil-A from bringing a store to Boston just steps from the famed Freedom Trail.

“If they need licenses in the city, it will be very difficult — unless they open up their policies,” Menino told the Boston Herald newspaper.

So what does he and the company need to do now?

There is no easy answer.

But the first step in my opinion is to protect Chick-fil-A the brand and immediate separate Dan Cathy, the individual with a strong opinion, from the Chick-fil-A the company, an entity that is not a person or has any feelings whatsoever.

The public and the media are lumping the two together when we all know that corporations are legally and figuratively two separate entities.

Chick-fil-A needs to start there. Protect the brand.

If not, some of the public may indeed stop eating more chicken at Chick-fil-A.

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Glenn Selig founded The Publicity Agency in 2007 and has represented some of the biggest newsmakers and most influential business leaders and companies nationwide. He is a frequent guest on MSNBC, Fox News Channel and on CNN. Reporters call him for an expert PR opinion on high profile cases to offer perspective. He also appears on air to publicly defend his clients. View the PR firm website and follow him on Twitter @GlennSelig