Corporate sponsorships of charities, values, beliefs, and other socio-political movements aren’t a new concept; in Capitalist America, every institution- business or otherwise- has an agenda.
Not too long ago, the infamous coffee shop chain Starbucks announced their support of the LGBT community. They received both negative and positive backlash. Some time later, the chicken-peddling franchiser Chic-fil-A was outed for their endorsement of the “traditional family,” that is, eschewing the idea that two men or two women should be romantically linked. They also stirred up massive controversy and divided the consumer base.
Of course, the issue of gay rights is not the only controversial battle that a company may take up; others, such as Cheerios brand cereal, has been both attacked and praised for its portrayal of interracial families in their advertising. Brands [such as Nestle and DiGiorno, Tyson Foods] that have been found to purchase the ingredients for their products from cruel factory farms were forced respond in a manner that saved or restored the company’s image and reputation.
Basically, to save their own butts, they were forced to advocate through PR for better conditions for factory farm animals that belonged to another business.
Advocacy doesn’t always mean taking a stance on a controversial social issue. The board of directors, CEOs, or other managers of a business will often “advocate” for actions based on policies that have the company’s best interests at heart, such as which shares to sell or what products to stock on shelves. Grand Valley State University advocates itself as one of the top public universities in the Midwest [which is not necessarily untrue] to attract more students to enroll.
Advocacy also doesn’t always have to be for profit. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) has implemented a program that focuses “on three core areas: the business value of public relations, ethics [within the profession], and diversity within the profession” (PRSA, “What Is Advocacy?”). The program advocates the profession of public relations for the field itself.
So how does a company “choose a side” without losing the other team?
Two words: Public relations.
Use PR to play off of the benefits of advocacy but address the concerns. Although not always possible to include everyone, don’t purposely alienate a single group of people; try to bring an answer to the table that pleases everyone. Be honest in your press releases and official statements. Host events and invite all types of people to participate. Aligning with a charity that “fits” with your company’s values and mission statement is a smart move from a PR standpoint to gain the public’s favor.
After his announcement of the company’s pro-gay stance, Starbucks’ CEO responded to a concerned shareholder with a curt, “You can sell your shares of Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much” (Spitzer, 2013). This is a PR no-no. His attitude of “if you don’t like it, get out” enraged Christians and lauded members of the LGBT community; he must have left a sour taste in the mouths and bank accounts of not only his shareholders, but consumers with traditional values as well, which negatively affected Starbucks’ bottom line when their stock price dropped the following quarter. What he should have done was adequately address the concerns of all parties involved, and maybe comp them a free Caramel Flan Latte or two to ease the tension.
What is Advocacy? (2014). PRSA. Retrieved from https://www.prsa.org/advocacy/#.UvqG7EJdUVI
Spitzer, G. (2013). Did Starbucks same-sex marriage stance really hurt its bottom line? KPLU. Retrieved from http://www.kplu.org/post/did-starbucks-same-sex-marriage-stance-really-hurt-its-bottom-line
Zila, C. (2013) Creating PR opportunities with charity. PR Toolkit. Retrieved from http://www.smallbusinesspr.com/pr-learning-center/small-biz-articles/Creating-PR-Opportunities-With-Charity.html