A case study in world-class public relations

As someone who has worked in the hospitality industry and in the public relations industry, a recent story caught my eye.

What goes to Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas?

It all started when MommyCon, a “boutique style convention dedicated to bringing modern moms and mothers-to-be together,” was hosted this year at the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel and Casino. Mommies of all ages and backgrounds descended upon Las Vegas, which may seem out of place for such an event.  But Las Vegas is used to hosting conventions of all shapes and sizes, so why not?

One of the featured speakers, Jessica Martin-Weber blogger and manager at The Leaky Boob, a website dedicated to breastfeeding support, decided to feed her child at lunch. Naturally she breastfed her infant and being a mother who’s been around the block more than once she chose not to use a cover. Well apparently this made some of the other casino guests uncomfortable.  So much so that a staff member came over and politely asked her to cover up.

The blogger at first laughed, and then stated that she was within her rights (per Nevada law) to breastfeed how she sees fit, wherever she sees fit.  The woman politely, though firmly asked her to cover up again, saying it would make other guests more comfortable.  The irony of the situation was not lost on the blogger.  This was Las Vegas after all.  The casino had a burlesque show.  And (beyond the control of the casino) flyers with sexualized women in pasties were passed out just outside the front door daily.  Breastfeeding is what the patrons found offensive?!

Finally the blogger thanked her and continued about her business. The woman finally gave up. The blogger noted when recalling the story that:

“… she didn’t yell at me, she never touched my baby or me, she did not call me names, she did not go over to the tables that complained and loudly inform them that I wouldn’t comply, she didn’t ask me to leave, and she didn’t threaten me in any way.”

The blogger had a good chuckle, shared her experience on Twitter and tagged the Flamingo.  That could be the end of the story – it isn’t.  What happened next is what sets the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel and Casino apart from so many others who have handled similar situations so poorly.

World-class response

Due to the flashpoint nature of the subject the popular blogger’s tweets quickly became viral, and the Flamingo was right there to respond.  Not only did the hotel tweet the blogger and her companion she had lunch with, but also gave individual responses to each to their followers who addressed the situation as well.

The hotel engaged the blogger via Twitter, then e-mail, then on the phone.  They asked to meet with her personally before she left Las Vegas, and publicly informed Twitter.

Scott Farber, Director of Food Operations, met with the blogger to apologize.  He told her that he had had “a meeting with his staff and informed them of Nevada state law permitting a woman to breastfeed her child wherever she has the legal right to be, and instructing his staff that should customers complain about a woman breastfeeding again they would not address the mother but would work with the customers that complained.” She goes on:

“Kind and genuine, Scott laughed with me at the irony of being in Vegas and asked to cover. Scott offered to make it up to me with a free meal and more and was genuinely concerned about how I was after the experience. He shared that Estella, the manager, was horrified that she had misstepped in saying anything to me and he extended her apology as well as I didn’t have time to meet with her.

We discussed how the Flamingo could better welcome families and some changes that could be made to do so well.  The possibility of me returning to train their staff and sister hotels to consult with them on how to be set apart in Las Vegas as a family friendly destination came up.”

These weren’t the actions of a company that wanted to embarrass their customer families, these were the actions of a company that cared to stand apart and understands the value of doing things right.

In the end, she says the Flamingo will receive repeat business because of how well they handled the situation.

Anatomy of a stellar PR response

Businesses and PR practitioners can all learn a lot from the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel and Casino and their excellent, organized response.

First, they addressed the issue quickly and directly. Taking their interaction from a public social media level, and then to a private one on one was a good move. Directly engaging the blogger on the phone, and then going the extra step in person wins BIG brownie points in my book. Informing the public of their actions was also a critical piece since the story had gone viral.

They involved the appropriate staff, running the issue up the flagpole to the Director of Food Operations who then had the knowledge of the situation and the authority to handle it. All too often lower ranking staff dismiss complaints, are not given the authority to address complaints themselves, or address the complaint only to give an unorganized, inadequate response.

They said exactly what they needed to say – admitting guilt, apologizing, making things right with the blogger by offering a free meal, and informing the blogger what steps they are doing to rectify the situation so it doesn’t happen again. Sounds simple but many companies falter here. Admitting guilt, or at minimum apologizing regardless, is a critical step in containing a situation. Making things right with the customer is also a critical component. Many businesses would look at a free meal offer as a loss, but she is now going to be a returning customer, worth much more than the meal. Addressing and training staff is an internal matter, but will undoubtedly offer customers a better experience in the future. A win-win.

Asking the blogger back as a consultant goes way above and beyond the usual guest services response, and may be unique considering the circumstances and the people involved, but the casino saw a learning opportunity and took it. Kudos to them. They deserve a gold star for taking what could have been a complete and total PR nightmare and turned it around into a PR success story.

What do you think?  How would you rate the Flamingo’s response to this situation?  Are there other examples that you can think of where companies have responded as good or better?

Vanessa Williams
Enjoying life by exploring and learning new things everyday. Aspiring author and blogger at Asimplygoodlife.com I earn a living as public relations and social media strategist and I love it. I'm the person you ask about what's going on and where you should go. People often describe me as well-connected, friendly and optimistic. I think fast and talk faster.
  • safireblade

    Nice to see they got it together quickly. Kudos to them and to the blogger for not becoming hostile. Class acts on both their parts.

  • socialmediadds

    Interesting story with an extraordinary result! The Flamingo has earned my respect! Thank you Vanessa!

  • Bicultural Mama

    Wow, that’s an impressive response from the hotel. Seems like more the exception than the norm, but they handled it brilliantly.

  • Barbara

    What a great example of how to do it more than right – to do it with class and humanity! This incident and how it was handled should be in PR textbooks.

  • http://twitter.com/MrKovalenko Viktor Kovalenko

    I think it’s the greatest PR case study I heard about last time. Thanks you very much, Vanessa for sharing this with us. And I am glad to find your blog.

  • 16MinuteMom

    Fantastic outcome, impressive response, Good Job Flamingo – with breastfeeding rates increasing in the US (http://www.cdc.gov/MMWR/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6205a1.htm?s_cid=mm6205a1_w) I’m hopeful this outcome will become the norm rather than the exception. Here at the 16-Minute Club we give moms support at home. We need businesses and communities to step up and support a woman’s feeding choice when she’s in public.