Delta or FedEx: Jumping in or Holding Back

Two major companies and brands, two widely divergent approaches to the same issue.

In the wake of the horrendous murders of 17 innocent high school students in Florida, the National Rifle Association – rightly or wrongly, depending on your politics – was fingered as a “bad guy” in the aftermath of that tragedy.

As so often happens in social media these days, companies that have (or had) some affiliation with the NRA were on the receiving end of pressure to cut their ties with the organization.

Delta did so in near-record time, ending a discount relationship it had extended to NRA members. FedEx, subject to the same pressure, took no action regarding its relationship.

This is one of those situations we’ve talked about before, where taking a side, any side, in a political conflict carries a cost. The people who fawned over Delta’s move were counter-balanced by those offended by its action. There are now people on one side vowing never to fly Delta again, but there were people on the other side making that threat before Delta acted.

Pretty much a no-win situation, and one that your company could easily face tomorrow or the day after that, depending on who you work with – and how – as clients, partners, or vendors.

So what would you do? Would you act quickly, perhaps out of sincere support for a particular principle, or do you hang tight and try to weather the storm, not cutting any ties immediately but perhaps privately reserving the right to do so later if conditions warrant?

Our recommendation would always be to act cautiously and deliberately. You don’t really want to lose any customers, nor do you want to be in any one side’s crosshairs if you can help it.

But it is also dependent on circumstances. In this case, the NRA didn’t shoot anyone (nor was the killer a member), nor does it express support for mass murder. The organization happens to disagree about the cure for the school shootings problem. In our view, that doesn’t warrant cutting ties, since as adults we ought to be able to disagree without painting each other as evil pariahs.

The better approach was that of FedEx, which stated its position publicly but didn’t break any business relationships. They agreed to disagree.

A similar option might be for a company to publish an open letter to the NRA, leveraging its position as a “business partner” to urge the organization to reconsider its positions and philosophy. Again, the point is made, but everyone can continue to work together.

One more point: In a survey done in the immediate aftermath of the relationship-breaking, all of the companies that did so saw their overall public opinion decline significantly. All the more reason to deal with these sorts of things carefully and deliberately.