Any time a prominent brand takes a strong political stand, that brand must do a careful cost-benefit analysis. Sometimes, the end result is just not worth the risk — sometimes it is.
A case study of this idea is currently playing out in Florida.
In the Sunshine State, current governor Rick Scott is termed out.
He has announced he will be running for the U.S. senate.
That’s left the race to be Florida’s next governor wide open, leading to some bitter campaigning, and a lot of animosity as both people and brands choose sides. One such recent endorsement surprised many, both for the strength of the endorsement and for the risk it entails.
Publix, a Florida-based grocery chain with a fast-growing presence in the southeast is practically a cultural icon in the Sunshine State. The company’s slogan, "Where Shopping Is a Pleasure" is one echoed by legions of loyal fans who would not think of shopping anywhere else.
At least, until now.
These days, a huge percentage of that dedicated fan base is angry with the grocery giant for endorsing Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam for governor.
On one hand, Putnam makes sense for Publix. They’re a grocer, and his interests have always tended toward agriculture. His power base hails from the same area of the state as Publix’s corporate headquarters, the Lakeland region.
His connections and interests are their connections and interests, and vice versa.
But, Florida, in addition to being one of the four most populous states, is also one of the most "purple" states in the nation.
Florida does lean "red," but not always and not heavily. There are a huge number of "blue" areas in the state, and they are livid with the grocery company they love over this endorsement.
Complicating matters is that Putnam, who has typically run as a fiscal conservative and "hometown" guy, is in a heated and very ugly primary race with an opponent who is trying to blunt Putnam’s name recognition by moving to the right.
Putnam, has done the same, alienating even some moderate supporters.
Publix is now being connected with that partisan shift, and many shoppers feel betrayed.
One indicator of just how angry some shoppers have become is reflected in the response to a series of articles written about the "surprise" endorsement in major newspapers up and down the state.
These consumers are angry, and they are looking for a way to communicate that anger.
In the end, this may all blow over, but it just so happens to coincide with an influx of grocery store competition in the state. Angry consumers who would not have otherwise darkened the door of another store are beginning to consider other options.
Some have already started shopping at those other choices.
They may be back eventually, and these headlines and frustrated tweets will certainly abate. Regardless, Publix chose to make a public, corporate decision, siding with a divisive public figure and creating a self-inflicted public relations crisis firestorm in the process.
In the end, it may be worth it. Then again — maybe not. That’s the risk.
Ronn Torossian is one of America’s foremost Public Relations executives as founder/CEO of 5WPR, a leading independent public relations Agency. The firm was honored as PR Firm of the Year by The American Business Awards, and has been named to the Inc. 500 List. Torossian is author of the best-selling "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations." For more of Ronn Torossian's reports, Go Here Now.
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