Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein attracted notice Monday when the Human Rights Campaign posted a 30-second video on the Web that features his endorsement of same-sex marriage. For some, talk has already turned to how the campaign will affect Blankfein's and his much-maligned investment bank's reputation.
"America's corporations learned long ago that equality is just good business and is the right thing to do," he says to the camera. No one seems to question Blankfein's earnest motivation for participating in the campaign. He's long supported same-sex marriage, pressuring Albany legislators while New York debated legalizing it, and implementing LGBT-friendly policies at Goldman, writes The New York Times' Susanne Craig.
Paul Argenti, a communication professor at Dartmouth's business school tells The Times that the spot probably won't affect the firm much either way because it's a territory pretty far removed from Goldman's expertise or its perceived ills. "If Mr. Blankfein was taking a radical stand on pay you could say wow, that's big. But equality is simply not an issue you associate with Goldman," he says. But The Times' Craig notes that there might be some unseen backlash in the typically conservative arena of finance. "The affiliation with a liberal organization could also alienate conservatives who do business with the firm," she says, though she doesn't quote anyone to back her up on that. On Twitter, The Times' Washington correspondent Binyamin Applebaum takes the opposite tack, tweeting, "This Blankfein thing is brilliant PR, burnishing Goldman's badly tarnished image in the places it lives and works." Indeed, the ad certainly doesn't seem likely to play poorly in Manhattan, where figures like Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who public pushed through the same-sex marriage law, enjoy sky-high approval as a result.
In fact, recalling that battle over New York's law makes one wonder why people are so surprised at Blankfein's support in the first place. As The New York Times' Michael Barbaro noted in his tick-tock piece on the assembling of a gay marriage coalition, Wall Street Republicans figured prominently as the heroes of the story, pressuring Albany lawmakers. Being for gay rights, we learned then, doesn't necessarily make one a liberal. Still, HRC seems to be counting on the element of surprise with this Blankfein video. Writes The Times, "Fred Sainz, an executive with the Human Rights Campaign, said the organization sought Mr. Blankfein, in part, because he is 'an unexpected messenger.'"
Dartmouth's Argenti also noted that while he didn't see much P.R. benefit for the firm, it's unvarnished good news for some: "If you are a Goldman employee and you are gay or contemplating coming out, this is great," he says. And perhaps that, not Goldman's reputation, is the more important point. Blankfein is a huge name in finance, and the message among his own employees and those at other Wall Street firms seems like it could move their culture, even if just a bit, toward openness. And it seems to us that the greatest winner on the P.R. front is the Human Rights Campaign and same-sex marriage advocates, for exactly the reasons that motivated them to seek Blankfein out -- the element of surprise. As HRC's Sainz says, "The green visor crowd is not typically associated with socially progressive policies, and this is further proof that a diversity of Americans are coming to the same conclusion." Taking just the video as evidence, that's a hard point to contest, at least today.