The June 5-4 Supreme Court decision guaranteeing the right of same-sex marriage was a major victory for many who have campaigned for the LGBT equality cause for decades.
One advocate fought the battle for inclusion from inside corporate America, emphasizing the buying power of a community that any business would be financially irresponsible not to court.
Bob Witeck, president of Washington, D.C.-based Witeck Communications, has a career stretching four decades in the public and private sector, with highlights that include being a senior vice president of Hill & Knowlton Public Affairs and a communications director for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, as well as a press secretary and legislative assistant in the U.S. Senate.
With a diverse set of former and current clients that include Walmart, Volvo, the National Gas Supply Association, American Airlines and Marriott International, Witeck has navigated the corridors of commercial power with a specialization of helping business leaders tap the LGBT market and stakeholders within their own organizations.
“The last 25 years of my work has focused on creating the business case for LGBT people,” he says. “When I started it wasn’t a process that really existed. Corporations shied away from anything dealing with gay America, thinking it was a risk. That has changed to where we are today.”
Witeck says 379 corporations supported the marriage equality effort because they came to believe, over time, that it was not just the right thing to do, but also aligned with everything their businesses stood for.
The recent success of big business tamping down what many considered to be anti-gay legislation in Arizona and Indiana is a testament to the current clout of corporate involvement in LGBT rights issues.
“On the very first day that [Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer] spoke about the bill, the first two companies to come out against it were Marriott and American Airlines, because between Phoenix and Dallas that’s where most of their workers live,” he says.
Along with the tech industry, the hospitality and meetings industries have been leaders in the inclusion movement, according to Witeck.
“My focus is particularly the business case, but to me the meetings industry is a big part of it,” he says. “I work with Walmart, Marriott and American Airlines—the three largest companies in their space—and therefore the meetings industry is very integrated into what they do.”
The next battle, Witeck believes, will be regarding transgendered people, which meeting planners will need to recognize and represent to their hospitality partners.
But in the end, he believes, once a segment of society is freed from discrimination, such as with the marriage equality decision, that freedom is here to stay.
“Once you let that genie out of the bottle I don’t think it ever goes back,” Witeck says. “They’re not going to unring that bell and disapprove all the licenses in America.”
4 Things about Bob
1. If you were to take another career path, what would it be?
No question, I would be a writer. I still might. I’m a voracious reader, love books and have been part of a book club with friends here in Washington, D.C., for over 25 years. Now if only books can survive long enough for me to achieve my ambition.
2. What is your favorite quote?
“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them... well, I have others.” Groucho Marx
3. Any quirky talents?
Not so quirky, but I am a seasoned speechwriter. Over the years I’ve written remarks for Al and Tipper Gore, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, Jessica Lange and Mandy Patinkin, to name a few.
4. What’s the oddest PR/marketing project you’ve worked on?
Nearly 20 years ago, I represented the popular, independent bookstore Kramerbooks in their high profile battle with then-independent counsel Ken Starr. Starr subpoenaed Kramerbooks to turn over a list of book purchases made by Monica Lewinsky, including one notable title that she gave to President Bill Clinton. Kramerbooks joined with the ACLU and the American Library Association and other booksellers to quash the subpoena.