As a player in the franchise world, your business is intertwined with numerous employees, owners, and vendors who directly impact your company’s overall brand message.
From a corporate advertising plan to a promotional flyer for a franchisee, your brand reaches customers through numerous touch points within a franchise system. However, whether you have only a few franchise units or a nationwide presence with hundreds of locations, your brand messages, company goals, employee expectations and business processes are often lost in translation, which can lead to serious disconnects and confusion.
Inconsistent messaging and inevitable mistakes often cause unwanted media attention, creating the perfect recipe for a crisis.
Whether a crisis occurs in the corporate office or within a franchise location, your entire organization could face serious consequences that directly impact the brand’s reputation, system-wide. On the corporate level, your executives may be well-versed on the necessary measures to take when a crisis strikes, but can the same be said for your franchisees? With the proper plan in place and thorough crisis training for all levels of management, your franchise can safeguard itself from potential crises that may arise.
Potential crises, defined
So what exactly would be considered a “crisis”? For our franchise clients, we define a crisis as any situation that directly or indirectly threatens your brand’s reputation, usually amplified by extensive negative media attention.
For example, a home services company we work with learned firsthand that a crisis can strike at any time, and without warning. After a technician safely backed his service van out of a customer’s driveway, a child on a skateboard grabbed onto the van’s bumper without the driver knowing. The child rode down the street, holding onto the van until he fell, resulting in serious injuries. In no time, the media (including news helicopters) surrounded the scene, causing the company’s name and logo to become the defining image of an unfortunate crisis in which they had very little control.
Whether it’s an accident involving your mobile franchise fleet or a rogue executive releasing financial information, potential crises can affect your company at all levels. You could never possibly list all of the crises that may arise, but a comprehensive communication plan should outline possible scenarios based on relevant internal and external factors.
Control your story
With a constant flow of information traveling across social media platforms and news outlets alike, a problem that starts as a small flame can quickly spread like a wildfire to become a crisis. People are communicating in real-time, and it is vital that your brand do the same. A timely, but well-prepared response is necessary to set the tone for the public’s reaction.
If you don’t write about what happened, someone else will. So when the rest of the world is buzzing about your brand, join in and be the one to tell the story you want to be heard. In the middle of a crisis, you have the power to take charge and tell the authentic story behind what may have happened.
Know your spokesperson
One of the most important elements to consider during a time of crisis is whom to appoint as your designated spokesperson(s). This is often the franchisor CEO or head of the communications department, but remember that not all crises are created equal. For example, if your crisis relates to accusations of hiring discrimination, it may be best to appoint the head of human resources to speak to the media.
Your spokesperson should also reflect the severity of your crisis. For example, immediately appointing the CEO to discuss an accidental social media post could make the public believe the crisis is larger than it really is – attracting unnecessary and avoidable media attention.
Whoever you choose to represent your company during a time of crisis, make sure they are knowledgeable on the issue at hand, and well-trained to portray the appropriate key messages to the media.
Practice makes perfect
Knowing what to say in a standard interview with a microphone and a camera in your face is nerve-wracking enough. Add a company-wide crisis on top of that, and you’re likely to stumble over your words. Unfortunately, what you say immediately following a crisis can quickly become a defining, “make or break” moment for your brand.
For franchisors, it’s wise to provide professional conduct media training for corporate executives as well as franchisees. This will help when anticipating potential media questions and with knowing how to handle the tough ones. Key members of your franchise system should practice remaining composed and confident when being asked difficult questions, and use their answers as an opportunity to address legitimate concerns and correct misconceptions, if necessary.
As a franchise brand, your company benefits from a team environment and supportive backing, but this also means that everyone throughout the system must be accountable for avoiding damaging scenarios and preparing for potential crises.
The ultimate safeguard against a damaging crisis is to regularly promote your brand at all levels – locally, regionally and nationally. Consistent and proactive public relations efforts help to build a positive brand image that protects your business during times of crisis. When you implement the proper procedures from the start, crises can often be averted, keeping your franchise top-of-mind for all the right reasons.
Your reputation is an invaluable source for generating sales leads for your franchise system. Don’t let a crisis cause a chain reaction throughout your company that will have a negative impact on everything from individual franchise locations to your overall brand message. Be prepared. Be proactive. And, most importantly, protect your brand.
Heather Ripley is the founder and CEO of Tennessee-based Ripley PR, a national public relations agency specializing in franchising. She is also a guest contributor to Entrepreneur.com.