Let’s say you’re the public relations director of the Chase Bank (Full disclosure: I used to be!). You’re sitting blissfully in your Park Avenue headquarters when your secretary bursts in to alert you that you’ve been summoned to CEO Jamie Dimon’s office to discuss the Chase sponsorship of Megyn Kelly’s NBC interview of lunatic conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
On the elevator ride upstairs, you know full well what CEO Dimon will ask of you. Kelly’s interview is drawing intense fire for giving credence to a man who, among other crackpot notions, has suggested that the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting was a hoax and that some of the parents whose little children were murdered that day were complicit in it.
The question is: Should JPMorgan Chase underscore its commitment to free speech and a free press by letting its ads run on the program? Or should the bank, in the face of mounting public pressure, cut and run?
You bounce off the elevator, nod to the chairman’s secretary, enter the office as the sliding glass doors part and declare …
Well, here’s what I’d say. “Pull the advertising. Announce we’re not being party to promoting Jones’ repulsive views. And move to the sidelines.”
Which, by the way, is precisely what JPMorgan’s chief marketing officer announced, attracting opprobrium from various quarters of the communications spectrum.
• The company is getting “too close to the editorial content of one program,” tut-tutted a marketing professor from his ivory tower at the Harvard Business School.
• Another college public relations professor found it “frightening” that the bank was “interfering in news content.”
Fear not, my fellow academic travelers.
Jamie Dimon and his two-trillion-dollar bank aren’t interested in trying to dictate the content of “news.” They’re merely acting on the same primary concern that’s been the focus of similar companies — and the bane of Bernie Sanders’ existence — for time immemorial: sales, profits, earnings and customer approval.
JPMorgan Chase, like any other free market company, is in a business that wants to make money. And if you offend your customers, then you’re liable to make less money. So why do it?
Stated another way, most corporations — even those run by outspoken public figures like Jamie Dimon — abhor controversy. They figure there’s no percentage in getting involved in a pitched battle if the potential result is alienation, or worse, loss of customers. And they’re right.
There are, of course, exceptions, like Starbucks’ founder Howard Schultz, who regularly wades into controversies from gun control to race relations. But most CEOs find that when they stick their necks out on a controversial topic — like when Whole Foods CEO John Mackey opposed the health reform public option or when Chik-fil-A CEO Dan Cathay opposed same-sex marriage — they get their heads handed to them.
That, by the way, is why CNN quickly dropped Trump-severed head-waving Kathy Griffin from its New Years Eve telecast, and why Goya canceled its sponsorship of the New York Puerto Rican Day Parade that honored an FALN terrorist, or why Delta Airlines and Bank of America dropped out of sponsoring a Public Theater production of “Julius Caesar,” in which a Donald Trump lookalike title character gets stabbed in the back by Roman senators.
They simply didn’t need the aggravation. Period. End stop.
And neither did J.P. Morgan Chase, which made the absolute right decision when it pulled out of Megyn Kelly’s kamikaze interview with a similarly back-stabbing bomb thrower.
Fraser P. Seitel has been a communications consultant, author and teacher for 40 years. He is the author of the Prentice- Hall text “The Practice of Public Relations,” now in its eleventh edition, and co-author of “Rethinking Reputation" and "Idea Wise.” He may be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.