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Why companies take political, social stands

A customer comes out from a Chick-fil-A July 26, 2012 in Springfield, Va.

Jeff Horwich: There's a lot of buzz this morning about Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos's decision to give $2.5 million to support a referendum that would legalize same-sex marriage. It's on the ballot this fall in Amazon's home state of Washington. Target is also rolling out an ad for its wedding registry featuring two men. Meanwhile, Southern politicians have declared next Wednesday "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day" after the fast-food chain's president emphatically declared his opposition to gay marriage.

For some insight into why more companies seem to be taking a position on this issue, I've got Bob Witeck with me. He's president of Witeck Communications -- a firm that companies tap when they're thinking about reaching out to the gay community. Hi, Bob.

Bob Witeck: Hello there Jeff, how are you?

Horwich: I'm fine, thanks. Now, whichever way a company or a CEO decides to make a stand here, it seems risky. Why are companies and leaders taking the leap on one side or the other?

Witeck: Well, I'll tell you one thing. I think there has been a tipping point in the last year. Businesses have been uber-cautious for a long time about getting engaged more deeply into what they consider a social issue. This issue, however, is not exactly just a social issue. It's also a market issue. Companies like Amazon and others that depend on a global workforce have to have talent wherever they can find it, and obtain it.

Horwich: But why not just remain pleasantly neutral? You're going to turn off customers whichever way you come out on this.

Witeck: I think that may be true in the short-term, and it may be true in some parts of the country. But also, Jeff Bezos and the rest of the business community see the trends. They're trying to also talk to younger generations; they're trying to talk to a more global audience. And they're trying to communicate what they see as a message of: Welcome for all.

Horwich: Is it just this issue of gay marriage that's causing companies to take stands more frequently, or is there sort of a wider trend of companies and leaders being more fearless in their political speech and their donations.

Witeck: In the pre-Internet age, companies were a little slow to get it, that society was being integrated racially. But then, over time, they realized their error. In the Internet age, what we're witnessing today is that process of integration -- in terms of their business philosophies -- is accelerated. So I think Bezos and others are also seeing the trends are changing, and they have to be even ahead of the trend.

Horwich: Bob Witeck is president of Witeck Communications. Thank you Bob.

Witeck: Thank you Jeff.

 

 

About the author

Jeff Horwich is the interim host of Marketplace Morning Report and a sometime-Marketplace reporter.
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