Crisis and Reputation Management in Times of Coronavirus


Thursday, March 26, 2020; 12pm-1pm

Crisis and Reputation Management in Times of Coronavirus

Panelists: Amy Cheng, CFE / Ashley Davidson / Mark Montini, CFE / Deb Vilchis / Lorne Fisher, CFE, Kelly McNamara

Webinar Summary –

In the “Crisis and Reputation Management in Times of Coronavirus”, public relations professionals discussed communications best practices for franchisors and franchisees as they navigate COVID-19-related uncertainty. The panelists discussed the “before, during, and after” phases of crisis communications and planning, and underscored the need for strong corporate culture as a lynchpin to guide current and future action. In particular, the panelists discussed the need for strategic clarity amid rushed decision-making, to take stock of process improvement, and to lay the groundwork for business re-openings with acts of empathy and goodwill during moments of crisis.

Key Bullets –

  • Communication is key: be a resource for your franchisees as they seek out ways to sustain their business.
  • Communicate with your employees often about uncertainty, and share information about paychecks and unemployment resources
  • Acknowledge the realities of the moment, and drive PR in a responsible, empathetic, and understanding way
  • Take stock of the “before, during, and after” of a crisis, and utilize the after time to focus on process improvement and efficiencies, and to lay the cultural groundwork to better respond in future
  • Ensure that you are complying with legal requirements and communicate requirements and any variations consistently and in writing with your franchisees and your customers where appropriate.

Full Bullets –

  • Communicating during Covid-19
    • Be a resource for franchisees as they seek out ways to sustain their businesses
      • What does new stimulus bill mean to them?
      • First, second, and now third wave – how to engage with them given the reality of the business landscape
      • How long does this last, what sort of impact – consider the variables
    • Communicate often with employees about uncertainty
      • Share information about paychecks and unemployment resources
    • Review your national and local ad messages – are they appropriate? Is your current advertising appropriate to the moment?
    • Focus PR/social media on supporting community, healthcare workers/first responding, and small businesses – are you supporting those who are putting their lives on the line via your brand (some companies are tone-deaf)
      • Only email customers when there is a clear purpose or a call to action
    • Stay in touch with franchise prospects in your pipeline, and supplier partners
    • Develop a protocol for crisis communications when you come out of this and that you can carry forward
  • Media Relations
    • Drive PR in a responsible way – don’t be tone deaf to the realities
    • Sample story opportunities
      • Restaurant operational changes (new forms of sale)
      • How brands are helping franchisees and employees due to closure
      • How small businesses are supporting local communities
      • Ways for families and kids to stay educated and energized during the quarantine
  • Phases of Crisis
    • Before – culture (primarily franchisor to franchisee), communication, clarity
    • During – Speed, creativity, motivation
      • Speed and creativity = mistakes. Moving quickly without a solid culture and clarity of communication will end poorly
    • After – Process improvement, stronger culture, strategic clarity à laying the framework for how to recover after the crisis has passed; keep a list of process inefficiencies
  • Example: Tropical Smoothie Café – challenged franchisees to give away 100,000 smoothies to healthcare workers and frontline responders
    • Franchisees understand that it’s part of creativity and motivation
    • Franchisees are excited about this and their part of the community
    • Leveraging culture, operation capacity

  • Do the right things now to reduce the aftermath
    • PR Crisis = fire
    • Difference between Covid-10 and a “normal crisis” = the fuel
    • In this case, you didn’t cause the wrongdoing, but there is a right and wrong response
    • Right: Swift action to stop the spread, clear and immediate communication to franchisees, customers, and the public
      • Example: fitness centers that closed proactively to reduce the spread
    • Right: empathizing with franchisees, offering guidance, pivoting services, providing content to the public that’s tasteful, comforting and helpful, and acts of goodwill
      • Example: Ziebart is disinfecting first responders cars for free, and customers will look to Ziebart afterward to disinfect their cars
    • Wrong: Shameless promotion, rigidness of rules, distasteful content to get attention
      • Now is not the time to enforce rules about refunds, memberships
    • Think ahead: will you be on the naughty or nice list?
  • What to be communicating now?
    • Press release
      • Appropriate? Can seem over-promotional/tone is important
      • How to distribute?
    • Social Media
      • Posting 2-3 times per day
        • Relevant updates about the business
      • Post locally à small business/community posts
    • Blog Content
      • Inspirational stories about individual franchisees
      • How franchisors are navigating and support franchisees
    • Email Communication
      • Updates to staff and consumers
      • Create templates for franchisees to provide messaging as well
    • Influencer relations
      • Spread awareness of changes in distribution
    • Reopening Prep
      • Reopening marketing collateral
      • Promotions, win-back
      • Hiring – communication to rehire and hold hiring events for new hires

  • Using Your Contract with Franchisees to Manage the Brand
    • Legal requirements may vary
      • Complying with laws and advising franchisees to comply with laws
      • IFA provides links on how to get up-to-date information
    • Follow governmental requirement or be more restrictive?
      • Under certain circumstances, franchisors may not be allowed to require their franchisees to close due to essential business restrictions
      • Can you require them to be open? Example: can you require them to stay open even if they have health reservations? This is not the right time to send your franchisee a default notice. Recommendation: send a nice communication to the franchisee to advise them to stay open, follow standards, and follow legal guidance
    • Systemwide or varying standards and procedures
      • Consistent and written messaging
      • Make sure that communication now can be enforced down the line
    • Communication with Vendors
      • Contract review
      • Force Majeure
        • Some for natural disasters – most do not include pandemic language
        • Some for government action
      • Proactive about negotiating new terms?
      • Landlords are open to communication and the need to work with various parties
    • Communications with Customers
      • Provide templates for franchisees
      • Require franchisees to check local laws

Best communication for franchisees concerned for front-line workers who might take benefits from government

            It’s got to be more than just a job

Also, it’s about whether there is a job to come back to – they may be entitled to unemployment insurance at the state level. You might provide employees with resources to how to apply for unemployment insurance, if they don’t have hours to work without cutting benefits

Begin working on your post Covid-19 planning and content so that you won’t fall into a dark period