from Emily Ward and Jess Hunichen, Founding Partners, Shine PR.
A franchisee gone rogue? Unforeseen issues with a supplier? Past owner’s bad business decisions coming back to haunt you?
We would all like to focus on the positive and put the business hurdles business behind us, but the truth of the matter is that even the best laid strategic plans have the potential to cause damage. And that potential grows with the volume of people who are part of your franchise brand.
The good news is that most damaging situations don’t have to be deemed a failure, especially under the right leadership. Forward thinking and a solid team even have the ability to continue your growth through these wrinkles while you take action.
Nothing gets solved by sweeping problems under a rug. Gather your team and collectively decide on your positioning. This includes consulting with your lawyer. Default to transparency, as in the day of social media, nothing can successfully be hidden. It’s easier to admit fault and take what responsibility you can in the upfront and then separate yourself from the actions that were truly out of your control. What can you do to immediately respond to those effected? If the actual problem doesn’t have an immediate solve, what actions can be done to help provide comfort or support. As a company, your integrity with your employees and customers is what needs to be preserved for long-term success. See this as an opportunity to build loyalty and demonstrate strengths.
According to franchise lawyer Jordan Druxerman of Garfinkle Biderman, “Franchisors are more conscious than ever that upholding the integrity of their brand is not only a priority, but a legal obligation. Recent court rulings, including the Quebec Court of Appeal Dunkin’ Donuts decision, have sought to place an obligation on franchisors to protect their brands and uphold the integrity of their franchise systems.” Where franchisors fail to take all necessary steps to protect their brands, the direct result is that market share is lost, sales at franchisees’ locations decline and the value of the franchisees’ investments are reduced.
Establish key messages
Consistent language and an escalation system for response are essential. Everyone involved should be informed and given the right language tools to respond to the situation if asked. This is not to say that a junior level associate should comment on a senior level problem, but they should be made aware of the plan that is in place as well as know how to answer and collect concerns so that rumors are squashed.
Your team also extends to your external support partners. Your commercial real estate and franchise broker will also be front line when dealing with a damaging act. They will need to be armed with the same points on how the brand is taking responsibility for the issue and how there is an action plan in place to course correct for the future. Showing a potential franchisee how quickly a brand can act in times of crisis can ultimately be a selling feature to show the strength of the system
“In times of great crisis, it is cool heads that prevail. There is opportunity in crisis so long as everyone is consistent with messaging. Landlords, prospective franchisees, banks and even existing franchisee owners need to hear the same message from all of the franchisors brand ambassadors. Issues like these can determine weather a landlord will proceed with a lease, weather a franchisee will make an investment, is a bank comfortable in financing the opportunity,” says Canadian SVP for SRS, Shawn Saraga. “Too many companies focus on the threat they can see and don’t see the holistic impact a bad situation can have on the overall company for years with stakeholders they may not even recognizing as having as dramatic an impact on their business. Stick handling these situations can be very tricky, honesty and transparency from the company with public statements and official internet postings can make all the difference in helping in-direct stakeholders buy into your messaging.”
Without a solid strategy and team to implement it, the effects of a crisis can have repercussions for years to come.
Communicate to your team in person
Emails may seem like the fastest way to deal with a crisis, but it is not ultimately the most effective. Tone and sentiment are paramount, which can only truly come across with face-to-face dialogue. Champion your leaders to have conversations with their team members and to answer any immediate questions. Follow up with an email to provide back up of pertinent points.
Focus on what you are good at
Wherever possible, keep consistency in service and go back to the basics showcasing why customers came through your doors in the first place. When the pre-school franchise Dino & Kidz’ founder incurred the fall-out of poor decisions, he took action and used it as an opportunity to celebrate what makes them unique. Shadi Almashi coordinated with the Royal Ontario Museum to host a fundraiser for Kerry’s Place Autism Services and invited all of the families and supporters of his schools to join for a fun family day. “We had experienced bad press,” said Shadi Almashi, President of Dino & Kidz preschool. “Instead of letting the few negative pieces of press define us, we forged on creating an amazing educational event that represented our preschool’s philosophy of raising children who are integral members of their community.” The results included several positive press pieces along with increased moral of the school’s employees and families, providing them with more current actions to speak about that properly convey the brand.”
“If you have great media endorsing your solution, it is now the franchises obligation to ensure the right people are seeing it. The more it is repeated and shown in marketing packages, social media shares, and brought with you to meetings to hand to people who are questioning whatever crisis it is you are going through the better,” remarks Saraga. “Having that solution backed up in print by a third party can provide the type of endorsement necessary to help a problem go from a deal breaker to a deal maker. Prospective franchisees and landlords want to see solutions to crisis and that you can handle the opportunity, the better it is handled the more positive it reflects on the ownership of the chain. People want to do business who can get through a crisis, take your next negative opportunity and turn it into a positive one.”
Be human and close the loop
Trust has to be restored, and that doesn’t happen by lying or skirting the truth. Consumers respect authenticity and feel further connected to a brand when the brand is being real with them. Nobody is infallible, and no company is exempt from ever making an error. Use your communication channels to deliver updates on the milestones of the situation until it has been rectified. Where on one side, you may be extending awareness of the conversation, demonstrating your ability to fix a problem and course-correct will be the lasting message that will rebuild your brand.