Franchise brands aren’t immune to crises or controversies. Far from it. With hundreds or thousands of stakeholders in the mix, from corporate executives to franchise owners to store employees to customers, potential problems are often only a social media post away.
Crises come in many forms. It could be an executive being arrested for DUI or something more scandalous; regrettable franchisee behavior caught on video, an employee making a hateful social media post. Or, it could be an actual disaster or tragedy that impacts one store or many.
Having some kind of future crisis is a certainty, and franchise brands have one choice to protect themselves: Be prepared.
Knowing that a crisis will inevitably and eventually happen, not if, means that franchise brands have the opportunity to develop a proactive strategy to minimize the damage. This means establishing steps to respond quickly and effectively to protect the corporate brand and the reputation of its franchisees. By developing and implementing a crisis plan, franchises can better protect themselves when the going gets tough.
When crisis strikes, though, don’t think you can keep the story covered up. There are too many eyes and ears on social media. All it takes is one person posting to Twitter or Facebook, and the story will spread too fast to keep under wraps.
Social media is a two-edged sword for any business. It gives franchise brands like yours a direct platform for pushing out the facts of an incident and plans for making the situation right; however, it also gives anyone the ability to spread their own stories about your brand without regard to facts or context.
Depending on the magnitude of the problem, it may be best to get ahead of public discussion and make the first announcement concerning a crisis. This lets your brand set the stage for the discussion. Every situation is different, though, and some issues may warrant a wait-and-see strategy.
When it comes to damage control, if social media has already become involved, the only real solution is countering the story with your own message to minimize the damage. Each incident is a lit match that can start a fire that will burn out of control. In order to put out that fire, the goal should be to tell the truth and tell it quickly. It’s always better to be transparent instead of letting someone else push out false accounts of the situation. The longer you wait, the more the narrative spins out of your control.
Responding to a Crisis
The first two steps: Find out what happened and then own the situation. If you explain what happened and how you are going to make it right, it improves the chances that the crisis will defuse itself. Appoint a single spokesperson to communicate directly with the media. Don’t try to communicate by committee.
Be aware that reporters can contact anyone in your franchise brand by telephone or through social media. This makes implementing a media policy very important. Everyone in the franchise network should know who can officially talk to the media and where to direct inquiries from reporters.
The question then becomes: is your spokesperson ready to face the media? First impressions matter, especially in a crisis situation. It can be stressful for anyone to suddenly face a camera or microphone and be expected to not stumble or freeze up in the moment. The best way to prepare for that kind of situation is to practice. Set up a training program for anyone who might have to speak in front of the media. Hold drills and role-playing sessions. The best franchisors incorporate professional media training for anyone in leadership — from franchise location owners to the CEO. The goal is to allow any potential spokesperson to be able to keep their poise in a stressful situation while facing possibly difficult questions.
With all of the effort and moving parts involved in proper crisis communication, it can make sense to partner with an experienced public relations agency to help implement proven strategies to deal with challenging situations. This takes the pressure off of franchise brands to reinvent the wheel by creating a crisis communication plan in-house.
Stay Focused on the End-Game
For franchise brands, reputation is everything. It makes or breaks the chance of future success. Without a good reputation, it will be more difficult to generate leads for potential franchisees. Image problems can even affect sales. Today’s consumers are not afraid to boycott businesses that don’t share their values.
So, don’t let a sudden crisis cascade into a threat to your franchise brand. Create a crisis management plan, develop messaging to reinforce your reputation, and be ready to respond quicky and transparently. It’s not always easy, but it will protect your company in the years ahead.
Heather Ripley is founder and CEO of Ripley PR, an elite, global public relations agency specializing in franchising, home service and building trades. Ripley PR has been recognized by Entrepreneur Magazine as a Top Franchise PR Agency three years in a row and was named to Forbes’ America’s Best PR Agencies for 2021. She is the author of “NEXT LEVEL NOW: PR Secrets to Drive Explosive Growth for your Home Service Business.” For additional information, visit www.ripleypr.com.