Chick-fil-A Continues Its PR Battle

Dan Cathy, president and CEO of Chick-fil-A. (Courtesy of Chick-fil-A)

If you haven’t heard about Chick-fil-A’s ongoing PR struggles you’ve probably been living under a rock over the past month.  (Here’s a link to the story in its infancy if you need to catch up.) The fast food giant has been under constant media scrutiny after its president Dan Cathy aligned the company politically with people that are opposed to gay marriage.  The company has since become a political lightning rod from both ends of the political spectrum.

Although most PR practitioners would normally guard their spokespeople against making a statement that would cause such an uproar, the company has used the publicity (even though it’s been largely negative) to grow business.  According to an article in the Washington Post, Chick-fil-A posted a record sales day on August 1st.  People on the right side of the political spectrum have even started to rally around the fast food company by giving it increased support.

So why does it appear that a company that looked as though it may have committed PR suicide now look as though it may come out stronger on the other side?  Can they actually overcome the protests and intense media scrutiny?  To me, it appears that they are taking the PR approach that politicians often use.  Once they let their feelings be known about a subject, it’s better to stand behind your statement and build a ground swell of support with people that agree with your stance than to reverse course and appear to flip-flop.

Cathy has taken a calculated risk with his company.  Chick-fil-A is rooted in the southeastern corridor of the United States which generally leans towards the conservative side of the political spectrum.  After making his comments, it appears that Cathy has decided to count on his biggest constituents to whether the PR storm and actually grow loyalty.  In the south, the risk seems to have worked.  The problem Cathy has created for Chick-fil-A is the opportunity for growth in liberal areas in the north and along the coasts of the US.  Although the company has expanded to most states across the country, there’s no question that the company makes its money across the “Bible Belt.”  The question is whether people would accept the controversial fast food company in places where it isn’t yet a part of the social fabric.  Expansion may be a problem moving forward for Cathy and Chick-fil-A.

I personally disagree with the stance that Chick-fil-A has taken on the issue and dislike that a statement like this was even made to align food, politics and social issues.  The fact is I’ve never had their food and making a statement that I would never eat the food to boycott would be easy for me, since there isn’t a Chick-fil-A anywhere near me.  Amazingly there are some people love the Chick-fil-A product so much they wouldn’t care what political stance Chick-fil-A would take, they’d still eat there!  Take Detroit Lions player Justin Durant.  He recently took to Twitter to weigh in on the issue, saying that if Chick-fil-A was pro-slavery, he’d still eat there because of how tasty the chicken was.  Wow.  That’s some statement.  Comments like that are allowing Chick-fil-A to weather the PR storm, and shift away from the serious nature of the original comments.  Although I originally didn’t think it was possible, I believe that Chick-fil-A is going to overcome this PR dilemma.  What about you?  Do you agree with my assessment or do you think that this will follow and haunt the company in the future?

-Sam Plymale






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