General Mills has come out in support of same-sex marriage in the company’s home state of Minnesota. A ballot initiative is under way there to make marriage between only a man and a woman. A company taking a position on such a politically charged subject used to be uncommon but is now becoming the norm. Last year, companies such as Goldman Sachs supported same-sex marriage in New York. Companies normally market their products and services rather than societal positions. Is General Mills risking their brand and reputation in favor of a minority group at its company and in the state of Minnesota? General Mills says it is making a business decision – as reporter in The Huffington Post:
Tom Forsythe, vice president for corporate communications at General Mills, said the company does not normally take positions on ballot measures but felt this issue was important enough to speak out on. “We have long worked to create an inclusive culture that welcomes and values the contributions of all,” Forsythe wrote in an email. “We believe it is important for Minnesota to be viewed as inclusive and welcoming as well. We do not believe the proposed amendment is in the best interest of our state, our business or our employees — and as a Minnesota-based company we oppose it.”
What can seem a local issue can become a national controversy. The Internet has assisted in accomplishing that thanks to social media. General Mills says it values a culture of diversity. They are in favor of homosexuals living in Minnesota marrying as heterosexual couples can. Family groups and other conservative, pro-marriage groups are expressing their dismay, drawing negative attention to General Mills’ position and tarnishing its reputation. These groups say companies should stay out of politics.
However, General Mills also knows that it may not be good for business to oppose same-sex marriage either. This was a strong motivator as to why they have stepped forward as they believe such a ban would actually compromise the overall economy in Minnesota. As a market leader with a wide range of products to sell, this is something for which they definitely care for consumers and the bottom line.
From an issues management perspective, General Mills should not only have a communications plan state its position but be trying equally hard, working behind the scenes to create consensus with its opponents, if it hasn’t done this already.
General Mills also needs to consider that if their public support turns out a loss at the ballot box, will they maintain their support for same-sex marriage? General Mills can manage its reputation by preparing a crisis plan for such a possibility, including messaging, spokespeople, timelines and more. Having a “Plan B” in place is always prudent.