Arizona Governor May Win Battle but Lose PR War

Jan Brewer 150x150 Arizona Governor May Win Battle but Lose PR War

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

America is sending decidedly mixed messages to its LGBT citizens. This past weekend’s headlines included clothing chain Banana Republic unveiling an ad campaign with interior designer Nate Berkus and his fiancé Jeremiah Brent. The Brooklyn Nets signed Jason Collins, who becomes the National Basketball League’s first openly gay player. To balance out the notion of acceptance, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer remained undecided on whether to sign a bill allowing businesses to deny service to gay and lesbian customers on the grounds of their religious beliefs.

Whichever way Gov. Brewer decides will cost her. A former small business owner known for her conservative views, she told CNN, “I think anybody that owns a business can choose who they work with or who they don’t work with. But,” she hedged, “I don’t know that it needs to be statutory.” While refusal to sign the bill may anger her religious constituency, signing it would have repercussions as the worlds of advertising and sports accept – and capitalize – upon the LGBT community. As Arizona prepares to host next year’s SuperBowl, companies were already informing the state that it would be dropped as a potential investment location, should the bill pass.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: It’s better to lose the battle and win the war. Brewer, a conservative, may personally align with the bill. But in signing it into law, her state will be identified with discrimination. Tourism will suffer. Arizona will become the target of protests. The businesses so intent on maintaining their religious beliefs by refusing service to gays and lesbians may find themselves with less business overall. SuperBowl advertisers may shrink from the potential for negative publicity via association. In the end, letting go of the bill may be a lose-win situation.

Chik-fil-A and Campus Pride’s Peaceful PR

Windmeyer Cathy 150x150 Chik fil A and Campus Prides Peaceful PR

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Shane Windmeyer (pictured, left) of Campus Pride and Dan Cathy of Chik-fil-A.

Shane L. Windmeyer and Dan Cathy may not be household names, but both are well known in their respective arenas: college students recognize Windmeyer as head of Campus Pride, a vocal advocate for the LGBT community, while business execs know Cathy as CEO of fast-food franchise Chik-fil-A. Their relationship – at least, that of their respective organizations – has been an acrimonious one since last summer, when Cathy’s comments regarding same-sex marriage ignited a firestorm of protests and boycotts on both sides of the issue.

Apparently, that relationship has changed. This week, Windmeyer revealed in his Huffington Post blog that the two men have reached a détente of sorts. According to the editorial, Cathy reached out to Windmeyer to better understand his perspective, even as the embers from last summer’s fracas were still smoldering. The phone call begat a series of additional calls, texts, e-mails, and in-person meetings, culminating in Windmeyer attending the Chik-fil-A Bowl as Cathy’s personal guest on New Year’s Eve.

Even more impressively, Cathy provided Windmeyer with internal documents that show the company has ceased financial support of certain groups perceived as hostile to the gay-rights agenda. As a result of the new peace, Windmeyer used his blog to appeal to Chik-fil-A boycotters to reconsider, noting, “In the end, it is not about eating (or eating a certain chicken sandwich). It is about sitting down at a table together and sharing our views as human beings, engaged in real, respectful, civil dialogue.”

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for both parties. In a time when hotheads are the norm, cooler heads are a refreshing change.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Sometimes the best PR strategy is to take the “public” out of “public relations.” In this case, opening up a private dialogue away from the harsh glare of the media spotlight gave both party representatives room to explore and understand the other’s views. In doing so, both secured concessions from the other and opened up a dialogue that continues to create an entirely different outcome. Might Congress want to take note?