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Mark Pettit


Holy Cow, What a Mess: Chick-fil-A and Its Public Relations Crisis

Posted: 07/20/2012 4:25 pm

A lot of people have a beef with Chick-fil-A right now -- and, from a PR perspective, deservedly so. Company President and COO Dan Cathy stepped in a cow chip that quickly turned into a sand storm when he publicly stated what many people privately knew: His company doesn't like gay folks that much.

First of all, let me come out of the closet on a few things. One, I love me some Chick-fil-A. I'm an expert on chicken biscuits, nuggets, waffle fries, coleslaw and iced tea. In the name of full disclosure, my company, Creaxion, has done work with Chick-fil-A. We like their employees and franchise operators a lot. Their attention to detail and around the clock (except on Sundays) work shows their passion for the product and providing exceptional customer service.

Secondly, I'm a public relations expert (or so people have been telling me for the past 20 years). I've spent much of that time working with companies -- and often CEOs in crisis.

Finally, I'm an openly gay man.

I pretty much have this situation covered from all angles -- and I'm personally offended by what has transpired.

I will no longer eat at Chick-fil-A -- that is, until Mr. Cathy publicly apologizes. And he needs to do it soon.

Mr. Cathy needs to understand that while his company is privately held, it is publicly supported. Thousands of gay people work and eat at Chick-fil-A every day -- many of them with a bit of shame knowing that they love the company but don't like what senior executives apparently stand for. That will change quickly.

Facebook and Twitter are afire with gay, and gay friendly people, publicly boycotting Chick-fil-A and asking their friends and followers to do the same. In today's hyper-connected and hyper-sensitive environment, one person quickly turns into one thousand and a comment to a religion reporter becomes fuel to fire the 24-hour mainstream news cycle.

Companies and great brands need to realize that at some point, they become bigger than the CEO. Vision must be separated from views -- because it's all about the voice. What people say and believe is the only thing that matters.

If Mr. Cathy doesn't do something about this really fast, he will find himself looking at declining sales and fewer familiar faces. He may not realize it today, but in the future he will see the harm he has done to his company, employees and customers.

Yesterday, I took several of my employees to lunch. We walked straight past Chick-fil-A to the food trucks just down the street. And that's the point. Chick-fil-A isn't the only chicken sandwich in town anymore.

Atlanta is an international city with 12 Fortune 500 companies and 2,100 international companies and is the former host of the Olympics. Chick-fil-A calls Atlanta home, yet with small-minded views, this high-profile citizen brings a closed-minded sensibility that the city has long since moved past. International cities are filled with all types of people, including closeted chicken-biscuit lovers.

Mr. Cathy, do the right thing and apologize. Once you separate the view from the vision, we can all go back to making Atlanta the great city we know it can be. If nothing else, if you apologize, I'd be happy to treat you to lunch. At Chick-fil-A.


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