The role of public relations in the franchise system

There is no cookie cutter approach and when it comes to franchise businesses it’s vital that PR delivers return for the franchisor and its franchisees.

So let’s say you decide to hire a PR Manager or engage a PR agency – what would they do for you and your franchisees day to day? How will they benefit your business?

It boils down to your target audience, your main objective and your key message. Once you are clear on those, the PR manager or agency can pick the best channels and tactics to reach that audience. PR tactics could include anything from traditional media relations through to social media campaigns or the development and seeding of a viral video.

Having worked for a number of iconic global and local franchises for close to a decade, we know that the objectives behind a PR strategy often fall under one or more of these three categories:

• increasing product or service awareness,
• franchisee recruitment; and
• brand reputation.

Growing product or service awareness among consumers

Growing awareness of your product or service amongst consumers is often the number one priority for franchisors – it’s what drives footfall into stores, makes the phone ring or sends people to your website. Perhaps historically, this has fallen to your advertising and marketing briefs? Now more and more franchisors are realising the benefits of PR in driving editorial and/or word of mouth about your product or service.

For example, we were engaged this year by Australia’s favourite day spa, endota spa, to help promote the launch of a new product, rolling out in endota’s spas nationally. To do this we approached women’s interest and lifestyle magazines and  influencers (celebrities or media personalities) to educate them about endota’s latest product and its benefits (via phone, email and in person). We encouraged them to share these products with their readers or social media audiences. By securing  product mentions in the ‘must-try’ beauty pages of magazines like Marie Claire and SHOP Til You Drop as well as the Twitter pages of influencers like Zoe Foster Blake, word of mouth about these products quickly spread, helping to drive in-spa foot traffic and sales.

If franchisee recruitment is your goal

Attracting franchisees to your brand and growing your network often works best when it happens hand in hand with an overarching reputation building program for your brand and business (more on this to come). There are also some PR tactics that might help drive immediate leads and inbound enquiries from potential recruits.

We have worked with iconic bakery franchise Bakers Delight for more than seven years supporting them on their product, brand building and recruitment campaigns. When it comes to recruitment, we have helped them with everything from hiring  apprentices through to new franchisees. The first step is always to fully understand the type of franchisees they want to attract to the network and the peak recruitment milestones for these audiences. For example, we know that towards the end of the school year is the best time to run a media campaign for apprentices and that the end of financial year and start of the calendar year is when more experienced candidates are reassessing their career paths and looking at the potential of business ownership.

By harnessing existing success stories within the Bakers Delight network as media case studies and by looking at external trends such as unemployment rates and the personal career drivers of our audience, we’ve been able to tailor media stories to  directly target potential recruits. As with any good PR campaign, these stories have always been underpinned with key messages about the benefits that come with joining the Bakers Delight network.

Further to this, Bakers Delight has worked steadily to grow its reputation amongst consumers, and this has had a flow-on effect to franchisees, and  their staff, who prefer to work for established brands with a proven track record. There’s something more appealing about buying into an iconic Aussie brand - but what if your brand reputation isn’t there yet?

Reputation building

Growing your reputation, especially from the ground up, requires a consistent and steady approach. It’s not just about making sure your brand stays top of mind but that it is the number one choice for consumers.

Real estate franchise hockingstuart does just this. Engaging with us for more than three years, we have acted as their eyes and ears, positioning them to media and consumers as the go-to real estate experts.

We did this by selecting and training a pool of agents to become spokespeople for the brand. We then put them forward as expert or on-the-ground  commentators to property reporters who began to rely on them as talent for their stories. With the  company consistently in the property sections of major newspapers and news sites, awareness of the brand and its expertise grew phenomenally; establishing hockingstuart’s reputation amongst consumers.

For logistics and courier company PACK & SEND we’re challenged with building the reputation of the business as a viable alternative to big names like Australia Post, so we use PACK & SEND’s founder and CEO Michael Paul as the face of the company  and as an expert commentator in business media. For example, he has recently been commenting on the impact the growth of online shopping has had on the logistics space – this kind of commentary positions PACK & SEND as an expert in its field  and as an innovative company that’s adapting to external trends. But the role of PR doesn’t just end there. PR is not just an external mouth piece; it often plays a large role in internal communications too.

When it comes to engaging franchisees

Communicating the success of the business and brand to the outside world is important, but what about to your franchisees and other staff? Do they feel proud to work for you and would they recommend someone else buys into your franchise? Often simple internal communications strategy keeping the network updated on the success of the business can be an effective tool for building your reputation. After all, your franchisees and other employees are a mouth piece for the brand.

In addition, franchisees are a great source of PRmaterial, but franchisors are often too time-poor to gather the stories from within the business themselves. The PR manager or agency plays a valuable role in mining the organisations for success stories and gathering the fun and quirky stories that media love (and consumers love to read) and packaging them up for journalists – as well as for social media channels. The PR manager or agency can also play a role in analysing business data and looking  for trends that are interesting to media.

We are often in constant communication with franchisees assisting the franchisor in educating them about the role of PR in the marketing mix and taking them on the journey too. Some of the early-stage PR skeptics have even become the strongest PR advocates along the way!

So how do we help get franchises to this level of franchisee engagement?

1. Keep them informed – as communication experts, ensuring franchisees are kept abreast of PR activity and understand its purpose is a key role. If you have an external agency, you need to ensure they operate as an extended arm of the business, helping to engage franchisees.

2. Don’t assume franchisees know what PR is – just because you may understand the intricacies of a PR program, don’t assume that your franchisees do; we often need to educate franchisees about the role we play and how it helps their business.

3. Know when to back off – as with any franchisor initiative not all franchisees are going to be engaged. We help to keep franchisees informed, but know that only some may grasp the value and dedicate time to it at first. Through fostering the next  two steps however, we can often change this.

4. Stay in close contact – common franchise models see marketing and PR spend drawn from a group fund; franchisees are understandably interested to see return on investment. We encourage franchisors to be in direct contact as much as possible  through e-newsletters and conferences – helping to remind franchisees of the value they are getting from PR. Every PR win – particularly in the early stages of a program - needs to be communicated and shared.

5. Be mindful of their objective – when demonstrating value it’s all about how PR helps the franchisee and so we work to educate them on how the PR program fits into their own business objectives. For example, growing product or service awareness helps to drive footfall to their own stores or website, recruitment can attract staff to their franchise, and reputation building improves the trust in the brand among customers and staff.

The role of PR is varied, but one thing remains – when used properly, it can bring immense value to your business, internally and externally.

Verity Lowe is the Head of Franchising at cross-media public relations agency Keep Left. With a specialist team dedicated to franchising, Keep Left has worked with a variety of global and local brands in the franchise sector for close to a decade,  helping them leverage the value of PR and communications across their businesses.

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