After a recent law banning transgender individuals from opposite sex bathrooms was passed in North Carolina, the entire country decided to weigh in, including many major brands with big presences in the state. One of the most prominent was PayPal, who canceled plans to open a new operations center in the city of Charlotte. Now hundreds of workers don’t have jobs, and everyone is pointing fingers and assigning blame.
Businesses Take a Stand Against Discriminatory Law
PayPal has made no bones about where they stand. CEO Dan Schulman said: “The new law perpetuates discrimination, and it violates the values and principles at the core of PayPal’s mission and culture.”
North Carolina Lt Gov. Dan Forest characterized the comments as “corporate blackmail.”
Now both sides are entrenched, fighting a war of words on social media that is quickly spilling out into professional media as well. On one side you have companies who believe the law violates human rights. On the other you have proponents of the law who are calling PayPal hypocrites because they choose to do business in countries with far less freedom than can be found in North Carolina.
Bill’s Intent Was Not to Accuse Transgenders of Wrongdoing, says NC Governor
The social messages are getting particularly nasty while the public concessions have remained positive. Forest told Fox News the bill’s intent was to “protect women and children in the bathroom from bad actors…nobody said it’s the transgender community that’s going to be causing these problems. Other bad actors will.”
Opponents say this message seems intended to have it both ways. Use a law aimed at one group while blaming another for your concerns.
What’s most interesting, though, from a public relations perspective is the revolving door of brands that seem to keep getting stuck with this hot potato. From Apple to Coke to Delta Airlines, UPS, and Marriott, well-known international brands have all been tied to public opposition of so-called “religious liberty” laws in the recent past. Now it seems PayPal is the “goose” in this constant game of Duck Duck.
The Internet is Permanent
While they may not be able to avoid being singled out in the press, one key for these businesses is to avoid getting stuck as the permanent avatar of any controversial social issue that comes around. Whether it’s Chick-Fil-A, PayPal or any others, the positive outcome of becoming the “face” of a social issue is short-lived, while the social stigma can last much longer. Suddenly a brand is not about chicken or online bill payment, it’s about gays or bathroom etiquette.
At best this circumstance is distracting. At worst it becomes a PR crisis where a team is stuck slogging through questions totally unrelated to how they make money before they can even talk about their product. These companies must not let the consumer public decide to define their brand as either “for” or “against” any issue. They must be seen as for their customers and their products or services first, foremost, and always.
Roman Temkin is a real estate developer from NYC.