Let’s not waste words here: Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), you screwed up royally. In leading the chicken wars of earlier this month, you need to go back to P.R. 101. It was the largest public-relations failure for this community in a decade. The final straw was your promotion of the kiss-in. Are we back in high school? If so, you get an F. If you represent this community, I for one am embarrassed by your lack of professionalism and knowledge of the media ... Is that not what you are supposed to be an expert on?
As to last Friday’s kiss-in, which GLAAD promoted but did not endorse, you should have known this was a bad idea. Learn to lead, and learn that leading means sometimes saying no. You could have just stood down, but instead you gave this juvenile act credibility. A kiss-in, relegating our community to exactly where the right-wing wants us. You’ll be seeing those pictures in future right-wing advertising campaigns.
We can only move on when GLAAD stops attempting to defend itself and its actions and stops blaming our political allies. Accept the responsibility, then we’ll all learn from it and move on to rebuild. Sometimes failure can be an opportunity.
Now that my feelings—my strong feelings—are out there, let’s take a look at the mistakes and what can be learned from them.
First, choose your battles well. Before engaging in a battle, know your opponents and what they bring to the fight. That boils down to research. If you had done this, you might not have sent out the stream of press releases. In politics they call this opposition research. In this incident, the following questions would have helped GLAAD better prepare:
Do we need to engage in this battle or will it be a distraction from other more important issues?
Is our message clear and simple to understand by the public?
Where are the majority of Chick-fil-A franchises in the U.S. and do we have troops there?
Who is their customer base?
What would their defense be?
Are we prepared with a statement for all possible responses they might use?
Where do they advertise?
Who would be their spokesperson?
What is their image, and the image of their supporters they will bring to the media?
Who are our spokespeople and have we prepared them with the script of the issues?
Can we, most importantly, control the debate?
And if all else fails, what is our back-up plan?
From the beginning, it seemed GLAAD never had any of the above. And that’s the short list when you’re thinking of engaging in a P.R. battle.
Now the actual damage. Among the real winners, in order: Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Chick-fil-A. Bet you’re surprised to see those first two on the winners’ list. Well, Huckabee devised and came up with “Appreciation Day,” and Santorum was first in line. The two losers of the Republican primaries now have a road back out of isolation. For Santorum, this could launch his next presidential run. Yes, the damage is that severe. As for Chick-fil-A, I have to admire the way they handled their message and the media.
The final piece of damage? When hundreds of thousands across the nation showed up to support Chick-fil-A, what were our numbers? Let’s say they were low. Why did we get into a fight we didn’t need to enter, and why were we totally unprepared? If you issue a press release, be assured of why you are issuing it, whose actions you are promoting, if it meets the needs of the community and whether it will be a distraction or incur damage.
Others arguments and ideas this column does not have space for: civil disobedience, violence against children, the First Amendment, religious freedom, nondiscrimination policies and even Biblical knowledge.
In conclusion, GLAAD, if your mission is to do P.R. for the community, you failed. If your mission is to represent the community to foster better treatment of the LGBT community in the media, you failed. The magnitude of this error is so great that GLAAD should now be on the community’s watch list. As someone who has worked for 43 years to bring media to where it is today, I join with the voices in our community who will not tolerate another in a long line of GLAAD missteps.
My suggestion? Instead of issuing a continuous stream of press releases like they are blue-light specials, your board should have a long retreat and look at your mission, and maybe even redefine it. This is a wake-up call.
Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.