Mastering PR is an essential skill for anyone looking to make a splash in the world of franchising
Whilst PR can be tricky for any organisation, it’s fair to say there is a greater level of complexity for franchises when it comes to getting their story out. “As a franchise, you have a lot of plates to spin,” says Jean-Philippe Glaskie, managing director of Peppermint Soda, the PR agency. “You have your own profile to think about but then you’ve got the added worry of ensuring your franchisees are happy.”
One of the most fundamental PR skills required by any franchise is identifying the kinds of messages that are likely to make the press sit up and take notice. Yet many businesses still stumble at this first hurdle. “Occasionally we’ll get a company saying to us ‘we’ve got a new website and we want to do a press release about it’,” says Chaz Brooks, co-founder and creative director of Chaz Brooks Communications, the PR and marketing agency. Whilst this may not be the most exciting news for a journalist, by drilling down a layer franchises can often identify a much richer vein for their PR activities. “For example, what’s often behind a new website is that the company has got a new strategy, so you could do a very good announcement about its change of direction,” he says.
Another common error that PR newcomers tend to make is assuming that its purpose is to flog their products and services. “At the end of the day, a journalist’s objective is to provide interesting, newsworthy content for their readership,” Glaskie says. “The last thing that they want is a company to start selling down the phone to them.” Because of this, rather than a franchise pitching an article singing the praises of its service, it’s important they offer up stories that will actually resonate with a publication’s audience.
Whilst this may seem a back-to-front approach for those wanting to promote their franchise, it’s important to understand that creating an authentic connection with the public is one of the key strengths of PR. “That’s what PR does,” says Julia Bickerton, director of Calvin Marketing, the PR and marketing agency. “It tells a story and allows people to understand more about you than they can get from traditional marketing.” She draws on a recent story about children’s swimming franchise Puddle Ducks raising £55,275 for local charities around the UK with a pyjama party swimming fundraiser. “If somebody is doing something like a charitable event, it speaks volumes about their business,” she explains. “It’s humanising and people empathise with that.”
But even if a franchise nails the perfect strategy for securing column inches in one section of the press, this doesn’t mean it can afford to just rest on its laurels. “One of the mistakes a lot of companies make is that they only try one line of attack and then they keep using the same approach time and time again,” Glaskie says. Instead a franchise needs to develop a multichannel strategy that takes in everything from the local press to national partnerships. “At the end of the day, it’s all about variety,” he adds. “It’s about attacking on different fronts and making sure that you leave no stone unturned in raising your profile.”
One channel that franchises certainly can’t afford to ignore is social media. “You may have sent a press release across to a newspaper or a magazine but equally you want to get that story out on social networks,” says Bickerton. Just as you would when prepping PR for the traditional media, it’s important that franchises using sites such as Facebook or Twitter consider who their audience is and tailor their message accordingly. “The nice thing about working across all of these channels is you get this joined-up thinking,” she says. “So wherever anybody goes, they’ll see your story.”
Whilst it’s already been established that PR can’t simply be treated as a marketing exercise, it is important that there’s a degree of cross-pollination between the two disciplines. “Your PR isn’t your advertising but you must be constantly aware of the need to get across the same message and make people understand what you’re all about,” Bickerton says. Ultimately, having a brand identity that resonates throughout both your PR and marketing can ensure the public gets a consistent message about a franchise whether they’re reading an ad or an article. “Whenever they see you, they can connect that story with that advert,” she says.
There is an additional wrinkle facing franchises trying to build out their PR activity. In contrast to traditional businesses, which can easily manage PR from the top down, franchises have to manage their PR across a network of autonomous stakeholders. “As a franchised business, you’ve actually got a little bit more to think about than the average business; it has different dimensions,” Glaskie says. “Because you’re dealing with different parties and expectations, things need to be managed very carefully.”
This means that a major consideration is keeping a consistent tone of voice across the whole of the network. “As a franchisor, you’ve got to maximise the potential of the media but minimise the risk of a franchisee diluting or, even worse, distorting your message,” says Brooks. “The best way to do that is by offering them a PR handbook.” Providing a short guide that outlines the best way to draft a press release or manage their Twitter account can help franchisees deliver PR that’s representative of the overarching brand.
And, as a franchise grows, it will inevitably need to grow the support it offers. “As they scale, they have to grow their resources,” Brooks says. “Whether it’s increasing the in-house team or increasing the size of the agency, it’s just a matter of course.” Bringing additional help on board can give franchisees access to the skills and confidence they need to deliver first-rate PR off their own back, as well as offering more peace of mind for the franchisor. “If you offer this facility, that’s also helping the franchisee to toe the line, keeping them on message and promoting the business,” he says. “It’s a win-win situation.”