When It Comes to PR, Do Food Politics Really Matter?

At first glance, it appears the gay marriage controversy involving fast food chain Chick-Fil-A appears to be a “PR nightmare.” The private family owner of the chain has spoken publicly against gay marriage, leading to online buzz and now, significant traditional media coverage.

All of their restaurants, per company policy, have always been closed on Sunday, for religious reasons. In the South, where all of their units were located until just a few years ago, customers have always know the Cathy’s family’s Southern Baptist faith has guided the company. Now, a national debate is brewing about whether or not Chick-Fil-A stands for something right or something objectionable.

From a PR standpoint, it appears that Chick-Fil-A is receiving “bad press.” But, in this case, the question must be asked, will it really matter? Will this really impact Chick-Fil-A’s business?

Based on past history, it might not. In the 1980s, similar controversy surrounded Domino’s Pizza because of then-owner Tom Monaghan’s anti-abortion stance. All Domino’s did since is grow into a global pizza force. Just a couple of years ago, Whole Foods generated a similar storm after its CEO wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal speaking out against “Obamacare.” Whole Foods has continued to grow.

The public relations challenge here is different mostly because of the media environment. In this age of knee-jerk social media “shares” and controversy-loving, 24-hour cable news and talk radio this story might have more “legs” (no pun intended). But the company is extremely likely to stick to its values and its messages. Customers, particularly the company’s base in the “Bible Belt” are likely to continue to get their fix at Chick-Fil-A.

Maybe, as a society, we just don’t care about the politics of food as much as we care about the food itself?