Zika Outbreak: What Franchise Businesses Are Doing to Prepare

While scientists are dedicated to finding a preventive vaccine and a cure, the franchise industry is working to prevent Zika infections before they occur.

 

By Chris Grandpre
 
Of all of the world’s creatures, the mosquito is the deadliest killer on the planet. With just one bite it can spread devastating illnesses such as West Nile virus, encephalitis, malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya and now, the Zika virus. Sadly, across the globe over one million people are killed by mosquito-borne diseases every year. Now, the threat has reached the United States in the form of Zika and the public consciousness regarding the dangers of mosquitoes increased exponentially in 2016. At Mosquito Squad, we knew this year was going to be very different when franchisees began receiving referrals from obstetrics and gynecology practices before mosquito seasoneven arrived.
 
While Zika has been around for decades, its name comes from the Zika Forest of Uganda where it was first isolated in 1947. This past February the World Health Organization declared the severity of Zika a global public health emergency. It is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, but it can also be contracted through sexual contact. Symptoms of the virus include fever, skin rash and conjunctivitis, commonly known as “pink eye” and, typically, last less than a week. However, it’s the connection between Zika in pregnant women and birth defects that poses the greatest threat.
 
According to recent Center for Disease Control reports, there have been approximately four dozen locally transmitted cases of the Zika virus in several neighborhoods around Miami, Fla., and there have been nearly 3,000 travel-associated cases. While scientists are dedicated to finding a preventive vaccine and cure, the franchise industry is working to prevent Zika infections before they occur.
 
The spread of Zika has posed new business challenges and some opportunities for Mosquito Squad and the franchise industry. Some of these key issues:
  • How best to respond to help build public awareness regarding Zika without being seen as fear mongering or pursuing commercial gain?
  • How to increase the education of American consumers on what can be done, outside of hiring a firm for a professional treatment, to reduce mosquito breeding grounds on their properties?
  • How to refine a marketing message and brand proposition, historically focused on lifestyle, to a more balanced mix of lifestyle, public health and disease prevention?
  • What new legitimate opportunities will these developments pose for franchisees and the brand?
 

Building public awareness through education

As spring — and mosquito season — opened earlier this year, fears in pregnant mothers rose about mosquito bites leading to a skull-misshaping birth defect called microcephaly. Clearly, mosquito-borne diseases were in the public consciousness at levels never before seen. Franchise systems had to determine how franchisees could add to this public discussion without being seen as exploiting the issue for business gain or as fear-mongering. 
 
In a franchise business, it is critically important to be authentic and consistent with your brand. We are not medical or global-health experts; in our case, we are in the prevention business. As such, we focused on education and sharing our expertise, both unbiased information about Zika and tactical information on how consumers can reduce mosquito breeding grounds and, therefore, the spread of Zika. 
 
With a sensitive public-health issue like Zika, one of the benefits of a franchise system is it can distribute a consistent message, with local geographic refinements where needed, quickly to many local media markets. As franchisors, we need to develop consistent messaging for our franchisees to use, and with Zika, to advise them on where our expertise and message ends and when to defer to public health experts such as the CDC or WHO. 
 
Multiple communication channels were used and our national spokesperson distributed educational messaging. Zika news and information was aggregated on a website launched at ZikaNewsSource.com. The website seeks to educate clients and the public, both corporately and locally by franchisees, through a variety of tactics such as newsletters, email campaigns, interactive marketing, PR, social media, blog posts, and educational materials provided to customers after
service visits.
 
Most importantly, the message was consistent that, whether or not you hire a professional mosquito control company, there are a number of things that you can do at either a residential or commercial property to reduce mosquito populations and potential Zika exposure. Fortunately, we have been using a “7 T’s” consumer campaign for years to educate consumers and property owners on seven easy steps that can and should be taken to eliminate areas of standing water, even very small ones, that are the breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Increased media attention and public awareness of mosquito borne diseases gave new outlets and fresh energy to this important consumer education campaign. 
 

Marketing message refinements

Franchise marketers generally focus messaging on consumer needs and buying motivations. Zika challenged us as the buying motivations broadened in 2016. Mosquito control, historically a lifestyle service, transitioned to a new mixture of lifestyle, disease prevention and protection for families, and public health. Franchise marketers are working to refine the messages to tap into new consumer needs, while avoiding creating unnecessary fears or exploiting the arrival of Zika. 
 

Preparing for new opportunities

Historically, mosquito control clients have been primarily residential and commercial property owners. Zika has created significant new opportunities for franchised mosquito control companies. Some municipalities are seeking outside firms to assist in their mosquito abatement efforts. The CDC is marshalling resources to be able to respond in the event of severe Zika outbreaks. China now requires a mosquito eradication certificate on shipping containers arriving in their ports from Zika-impacted countries, and interest in the business is exploding around the world and rapidly creating global expansion opportunities.
 
Franchise companies will have to be disciplined to determine which of these opportunities best fit the strengths of their business models and franchise systems. Leaders will need to examine the resources and expertise needed to pursue the targeted growth opportunities. At Mosquito Squad, we are well on our way to international expansion of our business. We started the planning process in a methodical and disciplined manner well over a year ago, but the public health issues posed by Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases have rapidly accelerated these efforts and soon franchisees will be eradicating mosquitoes around the world.
 

Social responsibility

While Zika has challenged Mosquito Squad in new ways, our franchise system has focused on prevention of mosquito borne diseases for years. One of our values is corporate social responsibility to give back both to local communities and globally around the world. These values, in part, are displayed through a corporate partnership with Malaria No More, an organization dedicated to eliminating the nearly one million needless and preventable deaths, mostly children under five, from malaria throughout the world.
 
Over the past five years, Mosquito Squad has donated a portion of its sales to Malaria No More to educate families and children about malaria; distribute diagnostic test kits and malaria medicine; and provide protective bed nets to affected areas in Africa. The commitment to this cause is not just financial. Over the past several years, members of the company’s leadership team and franchisees have traveled to Kenya, Tanzania and Cameroon to work in areas where mosquito bites are a matter of life and death every day. 
 
 
Chris Grandpre is Chairman and CEO of Outdoor Living Brands, parent company of Mosquito Squad.