Monday, April 6, 2015

Does it pay for a pizzeria to be political?

Memories Pizza owners on The Blaze.
With over $840,000 raised by a Glenn Beck-owned television show for Memories Pizza this week, it would appear that stating to a reporter that you would refuse service based on your religious convictions does pay off. But does it really?

Memories Pizza spoke to a reporter about Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

The owner explained that they would serve pizza to gay people in their store but would not cater a gay wedding due to their religious beliefs. The story ran and became a national sensation very quickly with an immediate backlash on social media. People turned to the Yelp page of the pizzeria as well as its Facebook page (both which were severely underused by the owners with little information and no updates in months) to protest the comment.

And then The Dana Radio Show decided to fight back on behalf of the pizzeria. The conservative show owned by Glenn Beck started a fundraiser in defense of the pizzeria. Meanwhile, the website for the pizzeria was hacked and threats were mounting, so they closed their store. More than 29,000 supporters donated over $840,000 to Memories Pizza and its owners. 

Fundraiser held by The Blaze to support Memories Pizza
The issue here is not that an individual expressed her opinion to a reporter about religion. It was that a business chose to make a public statement that they won't support catering a gay wedding as part of the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act." No gay couple had asked them to cater. And now, Memories Pizza is now closed. If the owners loved running their pizza shop, they have now lost that opportunity in their town. Sure, others who also believe similarly funded them, but did it really pay off to announce that you wouldn't provide your business to those not asking for it? 

Not really. This entire scenario could have easily gone a different way. The shop owners could have lost everything with no fundraiser to be held. The next pizzeria that decides to have a political opinion may find itself facing exactly that. Is it really worth it to declare to the media something that hasn't even happened for your business anyway? 

Memories Pizza website hacked
Several news sites are now defending Memories Pizza in saying that they only answered a reporter's question, didn't put signs up or actively fight against gay weddings. Well, my suggestion to the next pizzeria that is asked about a controversial topic in relation to their business is: don't. Serve pizza. That's it.

Say an issue happens in your area and a local reporter asks your opinion. Here are some steps to working with the media:

#1 - Realize that when you are being asked your opinion, you represent your brand, not you as an individual. 

#2 - If you are the decision maker or public face of your brand, when asked the question, even if by a local reporter, try to think what national implications this type of story could have. Does it help your pizzeria to answer this question? 

#3 - Follow my grandmother's rule. Two things we never talk about at the dinner table: religion and politics. Neither one involves serving up your pizza, so don't get involved unless you are prepared for the repercussions. 

#4 - Perhaps you let something slip publicly and there is backlash. Don't ignore social media at this time. Either handle a public relations team to help you or learn how to properly frame the statement you made and either apologize or defend your belief by being kind and polite. 

#5 - When being interviewed, listen carefully to the question. If you aren't sure how to answer it. Explain to the reporter that you'd like to think on it and come back to it. Don't just blurt something out. 

#6 - If you answer a question and your gut tells you you should clarify, do so before the reporter leaves. Don't assume they understood you. 

#7 - Don't believe you are ever speaking off record. You may say this is off the record, but notes can get mixed up, a reporter can decide it is too good to not share. Be careful. It may feel like two people just having a conversation, but you as the brand are making a declaration to the general public when you speak to a reporter. It is not just two people chatting. 

#8 - Not sure what the story is about? Ask the reporter before you answer any questions. That way you know the position of the story before you answer.

#9 - If you truly do believe in something and your brand also represents that belief, then answer honestly. But be prepared for people who believe differently than you to respond and potentially create a negative impact for your business. 

#10 - Decline to answer. You don't have to hide your beliefs or lie. But if your beliefs are different than your employers or don't necessarily match your brand, then simply choose to decline to answer.