Hotel Group Suffers Via Association with Sharia Law

 Hotel Group Suffers Via Association with Sharia Law

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for The Dorchester Collection hotel chain.

What’s the connection between Hollywood’s celebrity elite and an ancient law that punishes homosexuality with death by stoning? The Dorchester Collection, a string of luxury hotels including the famed Beverly Hills Hotel and other five-star lodging used by A-listers who have launched an aggressive boycott.

The problem is not the hotels themselves but their ownership by the Brunei Investment Agency. Recently, Brunei adopted the Sharia Law, which punishes theft with the severing of limbs, and adultery and homosexuality with death by stoning.

Celebrities and bold-faced names protested with a boycott of the Brunei-owned hotel chain. Understandable, though questionable; will oil-rich Brunei be affected by Richard Branson’s vow that no one from the Virgin family will stay at Dorchester hotels? No, but hotel employees will suffer, as Christopher Cowdray, CEO of the Dorchester Collection, pointed out. “During this challenging time, we have been deeply touched by the tremendous support received from our loyal guests and longstanding business partners who recognize that Dorchester Collection hotels are part of the fabric of their social communities.” In other words, guilt by association should not be punishable by economic death.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for The Dorchester Collection hotel chain.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Just deliver the facts. There are times when companies may be adversely affected by their owners’ actions. In this case, there’s almost nothing the Dorchester Collection can do but what they did, which is to point out that they didn’t adopt the Sharia Law in Brunei, and there’s no reason their own employees should suffer for it. That said, financial boycott and the pressure of negative PR sometimes wins out. Will it here? It’s unlikely. If only to keep from losing face, Brunei will probably maintain their position. Dorchester walks a dangerous line between siding with an unpopular owner and maintaining business; best to keep quiet and hope for a sale to a less controversial owner.

Apple, Major Corporations Take Stand Against AZ Bill

 Apple, Major Corporations Take Stand Against AZ Bill

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Apple, American Airlines, Marriott, and the NFL.

Taking sides on religious issues was previously considered a bad idea for corporations. Better to remain neutral, lest someone – meaning, potential customers with buying dollars – be offended. Those days are over as of this week, when Apple, American Airlines, the Marriott hotel corporation, and the National Football League sent a message to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer: Veto Senate Bill 1062 or suffer economic consequences.

The now-infamous bill legalizes the right of business owners to refuse service to gays and lesbians on religious grounds. Gov. Brewer, a conservative, has said she is “undecided” on whether to sign the bill into law.

Her decision may be assisted by threat of corporate boycott. Phoenix, AZ, is host to next year’s SuperBowl, and major corporations are making their non-neutral stance clear. Brewer may want to listen to Apple in particular: the tech giant planned to bring sapphire production to the state, which would have major economic impact – as would its loss. While no official statement came from Apple, Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines, summed up the new corporate stance when he wrote to Brewer, “Our economy thrives best when the doors of commerce are open to all.”

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Apple, American Airlines, Marriott, the NFL, and corporations that take a stand against discrimination.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: It’s not always about the bottom line, even when it’s about the bottom line. Discrimination is wrong, period; about that, no one can argue. Even three of the senators who voted for SB 1062 are now urging Gov. Brewer to veto it. Companies never want to alienate customers, but at certain points, the only thing to do is take a strong stance. Sure, the lynchpin here is money. But in past times companies might have been content to say they were “gathering information,” or say nothing at all. Some may still be doing that, but the ones that speak up are the ones that stand out.

Pasta Maker’s Remarks Land Him in the Sauce

157691 guido barilla Pasta Makers Remarks Land Him in the Sauce

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Barilla Group Chair Guido Barilla.

If you’re tempted to feel sorry for Guido Barilla, resist the urge. The chairman of Barilla Group, the world’s leading pasta maker, blundered wildly in an Italian radio interview last week as he tried to justify why his company doesn’t feature gay families in its advertising. From a business perspective – never mind society in general – no one who heads a company of any size could be excused such a miscue.

In one of the more forgiving and contextualized translations of his remarks, Barilla said his family-owned company had “a slightly different culture” about the “traditional” family. “If gays like our pasta and our advertisings, they will eat our pasta; if they don’t like that, they will eat someone else’s pasta. You can’t always please everyone not to displease anyone,” he said. Excluding gays was “not for lack of respect toward homosexuals – who have the right to do whatever they want without disturbing others – but because I don’t agree with them, and I think we want to talk to traditional families.”

The LGBT activist community took up Barilla’s invitation to “eat someone elses’s pasta,” winning broader support for boycotts as the CEO tried to apologize and walk back for his remarks. Buona fortuna with that. Thanks to his misplaced candor, Barilla’s pasta isn’t the only thing morally-outraged consumers aren’t buying.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Barilla and its CEO, for a PR disaster that undid years of built-up brand goodwill in a matter of seconds.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Leave personal politics in the kitchen, away from your business, your branding and – per favore! – any microphones. This is especially true for broad consumer brands. If you get thrown a curveball question in an interview, be ready to demur. Your attempt at a nuanced explanation won’t survive the news cycle, much less translation, and in today’s linked-up world, transmission happens almost instantly. Finally, be prepared with a contingency plan that says more than “I’m sorry.” Barilla needs to take positive corrective action to show a true change of heart, not just remorse.

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?

Lowe’s, American Muslims & the Florida Family Association

lowes ama Lowes, American Muslims & the Florida Family AssociationLowe’s the home improvement retailer was one of the key advertisers on a reality show called All American Muslim, on TLC the cable channel.  The show profiles five ordinary American Muslim families.

This was too much for the Florida Family Association (FFA), which pushed Lowe’s to pull its ads from the program. The FFA said the show “hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger.”

Lowe’s pulled the advertising and apologized for having “managed to make some people very unhappy.”  Now Ted Lieu, a Californian state senator says he is considering calling for a boycott, branding Lowe’s decision “un-American”.

With over 25,000 comments on Lowe’s Facebook page calling Lowe’s cowardly and others angry that they were advertising at all, this is now officially a mess.

The PR Verdict: “C Minus” for Lowe’s. This tricky situation could have been avoided.

Lowe’s pressed the panic button too early. By pulling the ads they handed the FFA a needless and unjustified victory. The priority now is to get the senator on side.  Organise a roundtable with the backing of TLC the broadcaster, the senator, the FFA and spokespeople for American Muslims. Have TLC profile the meeting on its Facebook pages and Lowe’s own and then close the chapter as quickly as possible. In future, next time a pressure group like the FFA comes knocking, doing nothing is always an option.

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