The First 4 Hours: Critical Actions for National Restaurant Chains After Breastfeeding Incident

By on Jan 15, 2015 in breastfeeding incident, corporate communications, policies, training | 0 comments

You’ve just received the news. One of your employees invented their own breastfeeding corporate policy and embarrassed a nursing mother. Perhaps the incident was greeted with angry responses, or perhaps with mutinous silence. Either way, you can’t stop the mental movie reel of media firestorms, social media monologues and negative reviews.

These things can and do happen, especially to national restaurant chains. Because they share a widespread public image, chains tend to suffer uniformly for the actions of a single employee, which can pose a huge challenge to PR teams hoping to mitigate the damage. Plus, even if you have a breastfeeding-friendly corporate policy that follows federal guidelines (and those of some states), if you’ve never made the effort to train your employees, such incidents become more likely.

The first four hours after learning about a breastfeeding incident are crucial, dictating how your brand will be viewed over the following few days and possibly weeks, and determining how easy recovery from the incident will be. The below recommendations will help guide your social media and official responses positively and proactively.

Hours 1 and 2: Mobilize Your Resources

Start by confirming all possible details. Contact the location general manager first thing to learn exactly what occurred and to request video footage if it is available. Make it clear to the manager and other employees with whom you speak that an honest mistake won’t get anyone fired, but covering up facts and obstructing your investigation will. Your goal is to paint an accurate picture of what happened, including the responsible employee’s actions, the reactions of guests, the manager’s involvement and any promises that were made by way of apology.

Alert your crisis communications team so they are prepared when customers or media have questions, and consider bringing on a breastfeeding advocate who is trained in corporate communications and social media. Because nursing is a sensitive issue with different dynamics than other crises, it can help to have a breastfeeding professional on hand to give counsel, help mitigate damages and prevent the incident from sparking nurse-ins or other media events.

Hours 3 and 4: Formulate Your Response Plan

With the help of your crisis team, work to customize your social media post templates and official statements. At this time you can also figure out any early details you are comfortable sharing. The PR response to a breastfeeding incident is less formal and more personal, and can sometimes be lengthy. Steer clear of condescending language such as “It is important to note that we … ” and phrases that sounds defensive or accusatory, and aim for statements such as “We are disappointed when any guest has a less than great experience and are working to learn more about this incident.”

Have these responses ready for when the first social media posts and inquiries roll in. Resist the temptation to go silent, as people will assume you’re ignoring them and increase pressure. Share all information with your crisis team and continue to make decisions together going forward.

Breastfeeding crises involve feelings that are hard to come back from: anger, humiliation, confusion and hurt. Such emotions tend to magnify incidents and create division, which is why you need a well-formulated plan that involves all stake-holding parties and takes customer concerns seriously. Such a response is more likely to diffuse tensions and leave your brand intact than any other reaction, and may even increase your credibility in the eyes of investors, guests and the public.

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