Chris Graham: Politics and the bottom line for business

chris grahamA couple of years back, I let myself get caught up in the Chick-fil-A boycott hysteria.

It’s kinda hazy to me now, but what I remember is that there was a furor, rightfully so, over comments made by a company exec regarding the LGBT community, bad enough that it didn’t take much cajoling from the social-justice warriors to get me to turn my nose to the chicken sandwiches.

A week or so into the upset, it hit me how silly it was to think that me not eating a chicken sandwich would somehow impact public policy, and I headed for the drive-through.

Funny thing now, though, is as I consider this episode in the context over the many, many other boycotts called for on the left and right, I realize that I rarely interact with Chick-fil-A anymore, and that this has nothing to do with me wanting to protest anything.

I just got out of the habit, I guess, which is something worth considering for the brands that find themselves getting caught up in the latest political firestorm.

I eat just as much, if not a ton more, chicken than I did back when the Chick-fil-A brand got tarnished by the anti-LGBT nonsense.

It’s not like Chick-fil-A is the only chicken out there, though. Crock pots are awesome, for one thing, so it’s usually the case that we’re making barbecue chicken and chicken parmesan for dinner and leftovers at least a couple of times a month.

Between that and the grilled chicken strips that we make for lunchtime salads, there are alternatives, is what I’m saying.

A family member got a Chick-fil-A catering tray over the holidays, and I snatched up as many of those awesome chicken nuggets as I could.

So, still like the product, just don’t crave it like I once thought I did.

Same for the Tony Kornheiser Show podcast, which I wrote about in this space a couple of weeks ago, after a flare-up between the host and some listeners who felt he softballed an interview with Republican Sen. Tom Cotton. The interview was weak, the response from Kornheiser was a bit infuriating, and the tone-deaf attacks lobbed my way by a handful of fans turned me off in a big way, to a point that I unsubscribed.

I still (want to) love the show, and I’ve resubscribed and listened to a couple of the podcasts since, but it’s no longer a habit.

Not good news for Tony in that respect.

Which gets us to, oh, let’s consider Nordstrom’s. From a political standpoint, I’d love to swing by and buy a sweater or something, just to thumb my nose at the so-called president, but for one, there’s not one within an hour of me, and two, last time I went to a Nordstrom’s, the big thing was how damned expensive everything was.

Meaning, no, whatever stand the company is taking – and I’ll give them what they’ve said publicly, that it’s poor sales for the Ivanka Trump line, and not politics, but whatever, it is what it is now – they’re not gaining me as a customer, for reasons having nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with economics.

Starbucks is another example. I love Starbucks’ politics, but I don’t need coffee, and when I do, there are two locally-owned coffee shops within walking distance, and my angry itch is toward supporting the locals, no offense to Starbucks.

The two sides of my job – running a news website, running a marketing company – has me struggling with how to comprehend just what’s going on with my own consumer behavior, much less what might be going on in the macroeconomy with respect to these trends.

The Augusta Free Press news website has its fair share of critics, as any news website will. The two most common complaints: you’re too liberal, you’re too pro-UVA. Which is fair: our approach is advocacy journalism, and we advocate inclusiveness and the promotion of public education and economic equality, and as a UVA alum who has written a book on the history of Virginia basketball, I’ve got a lifetime of otherwise useless knowledge on the minutiae of UVA athletics that I don’t have for, say, Virginia Tech athletics, and don’t think it worth trying to fake just for the sake of attracting a few more readers.

Readership is strong for the site, but no doubt we lose readers over coverage of this issue or that, and that can impact the other side of the business, the marketing side, which is where our bread gets buttered, in a manner of speaking.

On the flip side, it’s also true that we engender just as much loyalty out of other readers, and business clients, precisely because we draw certain lines in the sand.

So in the final analysis, I’d be hard-pressed to tell anybody else in business to take a stand, or avoid taking a stand, based solely on the impact on the bottom line.

I would advise that you at least be cognizant as much as possible that there are bigger forces at play out there that maybe weren’t there 10 years ago, 20 years ago, and more distant.

Column by Chris Graham