Do you invest in managing your reputation as well as building it?

Justin Flaherty, CEO, Horizon Communication Group

This article appears in the January/February 2014 issue of Business Franchise Australia & New Zealand


The most important component of any business is brand reputation. We’ve all seen companies crash and burn because of a situation they’ve been unable to manage - the media took control, the story was out and the brand reputation was seriously damaged.

You have invested heavily in building your brand so it is essential that you also invest in managing its reputation. The question is, do you have the systems in place to support and monitor issues and respond to them should they arise?

The nature of franchising, unlike a corporate structure, means you don’t have total control of your brand and when you add the power and speed of social media, it suddenly becomes a very challenging environment. This may start to sound daunting,  but with good planning and robust systems franchise businesses can have a great base from which to monitor reputation on a daily basis. This can ultimately give you great strength in building and maintaining reputation management plans.

So what can you do to manage your brand’s reputation?

You need to stay on top of the game. To help you we’ve identified ten key areas to concentrate on to ensure you create the most effective reputation management plan for you and your business.

1. Identify all the potential issues in your business

Gather together key team members in all areas of your business and brainstorm any and every issue that you think could occur in your business – if you can think of it then it could happen.

This can include areas such as workplace relations, as well as franchisee and franchisor relations, OH&S standards, customer relations and environmental responsibilities, to name but a few.

2. Assess the probability that any of these issues could happen and what impact they would have

Using a simple matrix, plot the potential issues based on the probability of them occurring and the impact those issues could have on your business if they did.

The matrix is an excellent tool for allowing you to see what areas need to be monitored and areas that are potentially high in risk. Comparing these risks against the impact will also help you to see what damage could be inflicted on the business if the
right measures aren’t taken.

3. Create a system to manage and respond to the most likely issues

Here are some of the steps you can follow to create a response system:

• Define the issue/situation
• Which stakeholders are affected?
• What facts are known?
• What facts are needed?
• Who is best placed to comment on this issue?
• What is the desired outcome?
• Decide on a response strategy
• Develop the key messages
• Draft statements - including media statements
• Consider how best to engage other stakeholders
• Agree on a spokesperson.

4. Talk to your franchisees

If an issue does arise, the aim is to contain the impact through effective internal and external communication. For the franchisor this means communicating quickly to franchisees, clearly outlining the situation and the company stance There is nothing worse than one of your franchisees finding out about an issue with the brand through the media, so make sure they are top priority.

5. Establish clear guidelines for all your franchisees

Franchisees should have communication guidelines that clearly define the boundaries for scope of media and public comment. The guideline should outline who franchisees and their employees need to defer enquiries to within the organisation should an issue arise.

Construct a document with the guidelines outlining what your franchisees need to do to if an issue presents itself, how to deal with it if it’s minor and what to take on board as a learning tool to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

6. Employ an external facilitator

You may also like to appoint a communications facilitator to run the management team through a series of desktop scenarios of high probability situations. By identifying risks, franchise guidelines can then be put into place which will address and prevent each item before it does become an issue.

Many businesses tend to only identify potential risks and issues which sit on the obvious. Companies can overlook areas that an outsider might see as a blinding potential issue.

7. Understand the difference between responsibility and liability

Depending on the level of risk a franchise network faces there is the opportunity to implement further tools to equip franchisees through tailored communication training sessions.

This includes scenario and dialogue training and creates a valuable time to highlight a common issue that often leads to reputation damage – responsibility versus liability. An area of contention, which has been the reputation downfall for many businesses, includes instances of significant brand damage for those who have ignored their moral and ethical responsibility, instead believing that they will not be liable legally.

This approach ignores the power of public opinion which more often than not will side with ethics and morals rather than the legal team.

8. The importance of a timely response

Don’t leave it to chance when an issue arises – take action immediately. This is the key to brand management and securing your reputation. It reflects well on the company and indicates that you care. Social media and online news sources require an almost instant response. Gone are the days of being able to wait until the paper goes to print or the evening news airs, news is now immediate. Therefore, your response needs to be immediate too.

Preparing a standard issues management media release is always a recommended method in securing your response is fast. An issue arises, it’s leaked out to the public and you can have a response ready and waiting to go.

9. Debrief and evaluate

After any incident it is essential that you hold a debrief with your issues team. Review all steps in the process, the actions and the outcomes. Like all good systems they need to be constantly reviewed and improved.

In some cases an issue may result in a change to your operations, policies or staffing – so it is essential that you debrief both the process and the actions with key stakeholders.

Some good must come from any disruption to your business.

Address your reputation management now and you’ll be safe in the knowledge that you can face anything that may come your way, instantly.

10. There is no time like the present

One of the biggest mistakes businesses make with reputation management is that they don’t make it a priority. Often it isn’t until the issue comes knocking on the door that a company will spring into action and, by this stage it is already too late – the brand has been damaged.

The best advice I can give any franchise network is to address their reputation management now – so it doesn’t become an issue in the future.

Horizon Communication Group is a multi-award winning Public Relations agency based in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. For ten years, Horizon have been successfully advising and working with a number of high profile franchisors.

Justin Flaherty is the CEO of Horizon Communication Group With over 10 years of experience working with some of Australia’s leading franchise brands Justin, and his team at Horizon, have the knowledge and understanding of the needs and challenges of working across the franchise sector

For more information please contact:

Phone: 02 8572 5600