Sometimes You Can’t Choose Why People Love You

Arts administration blogs such as mine frequently chant the mantra of relationship building. Success, we say, is incumbent upon you getting your community invested in your organization.

There have been a couple incidents in the last few weeks that serve as reminders that you don’t always get to define the parameters of your relationship with your constituents. Sometimes what people value about your organization is unrelated to the product you think you are offering them.

The first is the boycott of Whole Foods for CEO John Mackey’s editorial in the Wall Street Journal stating the country can’t afford the Obama Administration’s health care plan and suggesting something similar to the way Whole Foods provides health care to its employees. You can find a summation of why people are upset on Huffington Post.

I am talking about this situation first because it is the weakest of the two examples. I could say that Whole Foods product isn’t health care and that most of the employees likely hold a view closer to that of the customers than the CEO so why boycott the store? However, it doesn’t take much effort to see that Whole Foods is selling a healthy lifestyle. In fact, Mackey pretty much suggests you won’t need health insurance if you patronize his stores. Even though Whole Foods’ health insurance looks to be fairly decent, health insurance for those who don’t have it is a hot button issue. Though I suppose there is some irony in the fact that people refused to shop at Walmart for denying health insurance to many of their employees and now they are going to boycott Whole Foods which pays 100% of the insurance premium because the CEO is encouraging everyone to follow his company’s example.

The furor over IKEA’s font change on the other hand, is a little puzzling. While font choice is part of the company’s brand identity, the font has no bearing on the quality or design of the furniture being sold. It is hard to understand why customers of a company whose products have been described as the vanilla choice of the furnishings world are upset because a more ubiquitous font has been chosen. And yet people are signing a petition urging them to change it back.

I’ll agree that font choice is central to creating an impression and identity for a company. Would you frequent McDonalds if their font screamed Soviet gulag? Short of a favored store making a similarly extreme change, I can’t say that my continued patronage hinges on font choice. I could perhaps understand if IKEA discarded their naming conventions for something generic like Mahogany chair style 3. The quirky naming thing is characteristic to them and kind of endearing. The font choice being central to the enjoyment of a furniture buying experience I can’t really see.

It’s almost enough to make you wary about making changes to any aspect with which people might identify your organization. There are a bunch of us praying we can replace our carpet some year soon. I would be bowled over if people found the worn out areas charming and objected to changing it out.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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