When his stance picked up steam in social media, Cathy was interviewed on a syndicated radio show, where he said: "I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage."
Bad Publicity Isn't Good
Cathy was speaking as a private individual; and the company’s defenders point to Chick-fil-A’s anti-discrimination policy, which applies to both employees and customers. Gay rights groups such as Equality Matters points out the company’s charitable foundation, WinShape, donated almost $2 million to anti-gay organizations in 2010. What really fanned the flames was when politicians in Chicago and Boston announced they planned to ban the chain from their cities.
Former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee named August 1 Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, and customers taking a stance against same-sex marriage or for free speech) packed the chain’s more than 1,600 locations. Good for Chick-fil-A, right? Not necessarily. Perhaps disproving the adage, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” The Los Angeles Times reports that public opinion of the chain has dropped to its lowest level in two years.
So who’s right and who’s wrong? This is a tough question, one that is tearing friendships apart (and if you think I’m being overly dramatic, you haven’t been on Facebook lately).
To paraphrase an old saying, I may not agree with what Cathy says, but I will defend to the death his right to say it. (Though I personally don’t think this is a First Amendment issue.) But when cities start talking about banning businesses based on the owner’s personal beliefs, I think all small-business owners should be concerned.
Complicating this issue is that Chick-fil-A is a franchised business. (Though, as Joel Libava, a.k.a., The Franchise King, points out, the company’s franchise system is a bit “bizarre.”) There are no easy answers here. Cathy is entitled to speak his mind; customers are entitled to protest, as well as to speak with their dollars by boycotting or supporting his business.
If there’s any lesson to draw, it’s this: The business world is more transparent than ever. Whatever you (and sometimes your employees) say, whether in your business role or in your personal life, is going to reflect on your business. Before you speak, be aware that what you say can help or hurt your business.
Ironically, in a time when most business owners are tweeting, posting and sharing at the speed of light in an effort to help grow their businesses, the best advice may be something your Mom likely told you when you were a kid: “Think before you speak.” I’m not saying you should hide your feelings, your beliefs or your values. But before you share them, you might want to take a moment and think about the possible repercussions.