last updated 31/07/2020

Free webinar: Protecting your brand from media threats

last updated 31/07/2020

August 2018 – A recent news story about a franchisee who posted some ill-advised adverts on Facebook and the media storm that followed illustrates the need for franchises to be prepared when an issue erupts. A free webinar being held in September will help.

A series of Facebook adverts placed by the Te Aro franchisee of the Quinovic property management business recently targeted landlords as prospective clients, but in a way that offended many people. One advert appeared to suggest landlords aren’t charging enough rent if tenants can afford a night out, showing people clinking glasses underneath a tagline asking landlords if they were financing their tenants’ social lives.

A second ad stated, ‘Your tenants may hate us. You will love us!’, while a third showed two people in confrontation alongside the line: ‘Afraid to man up? We aren’t.’ The franchise wrote that it was expert ‘at maximising the return of your investment property.’ People who clicked on the ads were taken to a survey page.

The adverts made front page news on both the New Zealand Herald and Stuff websites, with comments on both the sites and their social media pages opening the whole brand up to abuse. The controversy gave an often-anonymous platform for those who wanted to share negative stories about their own experiences with Quinovic, whether those stories were real or exaggerated.

At a time when the rights and plights of tenants, and the state of New Zealand’s rental housing stock, are subject to increasing political and legislative pressures, the timing of the franchisee’s campaign couldn’t have been worse.

The adverts were quickly withdrawn, but not before they had been widely shared, with images copied and repeated in professional as well as social media. Quinovic chief operating officer Paul Chapman stated that the ads had been pulled because they did not conform to the company’s brand standards, and advised, ‘Quinovic Group office do not support the imagery and messaging in the ads, and we have censured the franchisee in the strongest possible way.’ For Quinovic, though – and its other franchisees – the damage had been done.

‘Time will tell what it does to the company’s bottom line, but its reputation could take a long time to repair,’ suggests Pete Burdon, who runs media training programmes for franchises and will be hosting the free webinar in conjunction with Franchise New Zealand. He offers the following tips for franchisors and franchisees.

What’s the answer?

‘The first thing every franchisor needs is guidelines around what franchisees and their staff can do on both social and traditional media. It can’t be assumed that they know this. The Quinovic franchisee probably had no idea the advertisements would lead to the media frenzy that followed. Guidelines need to be spelt out in plain English and activity monitored. If that had been done, the crisis may never have happened.

Pete points out that this issue could have been worse. ‘What if news media in other parts of the country contacted their local Quinovic franchisee for comment? Would they know how to handle that? Do they know that anything they say can be used by media, and they could be quoted as a Quinovic spokesperson?’

The need for speed

Quinovic did produce a statement apologising for the ads but by the time it got out, the horse had bolted. People had made up their minds that the franchise was guilty as charged. The franchisor then had the far harder job of trying to change minds.

‘This was not helped by the statement itself,’ comments Pete. ‘It read like it had been written by a computer, not a human who genuinely wanted to apologise. For example, one section of the franchisor statement said: ‘Quinovic Group Office do not support the imagery and messaging in the ads and we have censured the franchisee in the strongest possible way.’ That’s not how humans talk.’

The answer, he suggests, is to have statements pre-written on possible scenarios the franchise may face. That allows them to be released while people are still deciding whether you are a victim or a villain. It’s also easier to write them properly without the stress and time pressure that always comes with a crisis.

Be available

The last thing anyone wants to do in a situation like this is to front up for media interviews, but often it’s the best thing to do. ‘Many media stories initially said the company was not wanting to comment,’ Pete notes. ‘Sometimes, franchisors may be advised by their lawyers not to comment (especially if a franchise may have breached their agreement), but it’s important to have a designated media spokesperson, or back-up, in place.

‘The reason fronting up is important, particularly for broadcasting media, is that it balances up the story. For example, there was no appearance on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report story. That meant the entire five minutes or so was about complaints and no-one was there to even apologise.’

Not commenting also gives the haters more opportunity to make further comment, such as this one from Van Dam Ian on a follow-up NZ Herald story: ‘‘Quinovic chief executive Paul Chapman did not want to comment on the criticism of the company.’ I guess Paul has no viable defense (sic) against the conduct of his franchisees, their staff and the industry as a whole. The silence speaks volumes.’

According to Pete, the normal reason to turn down media requests is fear of being caught out by an unexpected question or making matters worse and extending the story’s life. ‘But for the media-trained, an interview is an opportunity,’ he points out. ‘If you show a sincere apology and empathise with those who took offence, lots of people will respect you. They respect you for fronting up and balance up your words against those attacking you. It’s also a great opportunity to show what you plan to do to stop this happening again.

‘Media will always come to you first for comment. This is your opportunity. If you decline, you look guilty and media will look for other sources. In this case, the other sources were unsatisfied tenants and disapproving landlords. That meant Quinovic lost any immediate control of the story.

‘Paul Chapman did talk with a Stuff reporter about a week after the issue blew up and made some good points, including the announcement of an independent review of the Te Aro franchisee that undertook the “unauthorised” advertising campaign. In my view, those points needed to be made at the outset to balance up the media coverage.  This also demonstrates that, by not fronting up early, the story drags on longer. The key is to be ready to act immediately which involves preparation.’

Last word

In the long term, unlike most crises like these, it need not be all bad news for Quinovic, Pete suggests. ‘It got a message out to their primary market, landlords, that could see them pick up some business from those who have had experiences with bad tenants – after all, they exist, too. But there will be short-term damage for the brand’s reputation which will affect franchisees well outside Te Aro.

‘In a nutshell, the media lesson from the Quinovic saga is the need for any franchise to be ready for media scrutiny. Most franchisors I speak to believe nothing could happen to them, but there are so many things outside their control – franchisees, staff, suppliers, accidents, criminal acts ­– that can severely damage reputations if not dealt with quickly and properly. They need a Crisis Communication Plan in place that covers everything in this article plus more. It’s too late to start thinking about it after something has already gone viral.’

In conjunction with Franchise New Zealand, Pete is running a free webinar for franchisors on how to prepare for media threats like this at 11am on Wednesday September 12. Follow this link to register.

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