Making the most of the media

Ciara Holmes explains the importance of having a publicity masterplan in place as early as possible

Public relations (PR) is the practice of looking after a company’s reputation and managing the flow of information between an individual or organisation and the public. Never was this function more important than when advertising budgets are under pressure. For the franchise industry the importance of having a good PR resource cannot be overvalued.

One great advantage for franchisors using publicity over advertising is that they can get the public’s attention at a much lower cost than if they invest money in marketing and advertising campaigns. However, the disadvantage is that nothing is guaranteed.

While franchise owners and franchisors need to be reactive and ready to take advantage of opportunities when they come along, the more prudent approach is to have a PR plan in place.

Make a plan

A PR plan is an essential tool for any business and, in particular, for franchisors and franchise owners. Your PR plan will help you identify messages you want to get out to the market, decide who you want the information to reach and using what publications/outlets.

You need to make sure franchise owners ‘spread the word’ in a style consistent with your brand ethos. The results of poor publicity can be magnified by the number of business owners operating under your brand, so consistency of message is important.

It is vital that the message is clear and consistent as it will reach a wide audience including the public, existing and prospective franchise owners, employees and many others.

As a franchisor, you need to control the messages and ensure franchise owners are well briefed and buy-into a clear, consistent message. A good PR action plan will provide clear direction to franchise owners on what to do, for example, in the event of a celebrity guest arriving into the business. It will also highlight who to turn to as a spokesman and what to do if a crisis should arise.

The PR plan would usually involve a series of initiatives which can be tailored to regional and national media. These might include photo calls, new product launches, job creation announcements, speaking engagements, as well as preparing, submitting and publicising award wins.

The big picture

One of the pitfalls for franchisors managing their own PR is the showcasing or focusing on one or two franchise owners for photo calls or product launches. This can often be seen by the rest of the network as favouritism. It is important that franchise owners understand the big picture and reasons why certain franchise owners are selected and the value of publicity for the overall business. This pitfall can be avoided by issuing regular PR updates to the entire franchise owner network so that everyone appreciates the value of national publicity.

Many Master Franchise Owners centralise national PR and provide collateral to individual franchise owners to support them in their communication with local media.

Another common pitfall is the missed opportunity when an individual franchise owner is featured on national media. The tendency is to promote one’s own business, but the true value of the franchise business model is strength in numbers. Individual franchise owners should always be encouraged to support and promote the bigger franchise business as well as their own.

Clarity of message

Whether the PR plan is generated and activated in-house or through an external consultancy, it is important that there is a clear understanding of the communication messages and a set of PR objectives should be laid out from the outset.

The first step in developing a successful PR programme is to draft a good brief. This may seem like an obvious requirement, but it is important to get to the core of the business requirement and determine a set of realistic deliverables from the outset.

Secondly, it is important that the plan is measured and consistent. Franchisors should work to prioritise the announcements, events and activities they would like promoted. This ensures the media is not bombarded with information, with priority given to stories that are relevant and news worthy. By taking this measured approach to media relations the franchise operators will avoid a scatter gun approach and consequently achieve more targeted results.

The benefits of implementing a successful PR programme will be building of the franchise brand, the communication of positive messages to the public and the enhancement the brand’s reputation. This should ultimately drive interest in the brand by both customers or potential franchise owners, thereby improving the overall performance of the business.

Look local

National media, with its sizeable readership, regularly covers franchise news but the value of local media cannot be underestimated in communicating local messages, such as sponsorships, local events and relevant local angles. There are also benefits to supporting new franchise openings as the editorial coverage achieved in local and regional press can engender confidence in the franchise. This can have a ripple effect on the general franchise owner relations and the overall business. Since nothing sells franchises as fast as satisfied franchise owners, franchise PR is integral to many franchisors’ development state.

By tying the franchise story with topical issues and hard news events of the day, there is a greater chance of success. It is vital that there is a flexible arrangement in place to ensure that the PR resource can be turned up if a big news story arises.

Franchise operators need to ensure all campaigns target multiple audiences simultaneously. As well as print, television, radio and traditional internet news sites, it is important to build up a strong list of popular, credible bloggers and develop good content for social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. This will get the buzz going on all levels.