Note: For part 1, Discovering the Power of Public Relations, click here. For part 2, Hiring a PR Agency, click here.
As a bootstrap franchisor, there certainly are ways you can gain public attention through your own personal efforts. Ask some franchise PR firms for general advice on how to stir up some publicity on your "franks 'n' beans" budget. They can often help out with suggestions. Their valuable direction may help accelerate your initial PR successes and avoid costly mistakes, so you can use their services in the not-too-distant future! Let's take a look at three franchisors who triggered extraordinary media attention through their personal PR efforts.
1. Margaret McEntire, founder of Candy Bouquet International, was a walking news story. She had the instinct, business savvy, and selling skills to crack into the news scene through her engaging, entrepreneurial determination. The media loved her spirit, the values she instilled, her rags-to-riches journey, and the international franchise business she had created from her garage--and which, by the way, had failed the first two times!
2. Neil Balter, the college kid who started California Closets, hit it big with national news shows from the start. Oprah Winfrey, Good Morning America, radio interviews... you name it, he was in demand. He was a publicity event in the making, the engaging and inspiring story of a student who had created an entire industry based on his senior class project.
3. Dale Young, founder of the Perma-Glaze franchise, definitely used his creativity to foster media attention. Refinishing bathtubs is not the sexiest news item of the day. But this didn't stop Dale from personally taking on the challenge. He created a riveting visual for the media that would arrest any reader's attention--which is what reporters thrive on. For his "dream photo," he donned his classic tuxedo and strutted into his warehouse surrounded by hundreds of refinished bathtubs. Elegantly poised in an antique beauty with engraved claw feet, he raised his crystal champagne glass to the skies, as a photographer shot the scene from 40 feet above. The franchise media went nuts! Full-page four-color stories, brand recognition, franchise calls, and industry buzz abounded. This picture was worth more than a thousand words. The image was dazzling, and it showcased the value of his Perma-Glaze franchise service: transforming worn-out, ugly bathrooms from embarrassment to beauty that every homeowner can appreciate.
PR tips for do-it-yourselfers
If you aren't ready, willing, or able to afford an outside PR firm, a common situation among start-up franchise companies, don't despair. There is plenty you can do to get the word out on your franchise opportunity. Here are some of the tricks of the trade:
- Wait until you are ready -- Sometimes opportunities come faster than expected, before you really have your act together. It's tough to resist the exposure, but your wisest decision may be to pass at the time. If you are a young franchisor and don't yet have a successful franchisee, readers won't get that excited about your opportunity. It's still just a concept without any franchisees who can rave about your business. You must have testimonials to profit from press. It's critical to wait until you have an inspiring message to deliver. Once that city paper or TV station runs your first story, it will probably be a year or two before you can get their attention again.
- Develop a newsworthy angle -- It's not what you think is a great story, it's what the media considers newsworthy! What is it that they want? Study each media source carefully. What kinds of stories do they like to write? What regular sections and columns may be the best opportunities for approaches you can develop? Read the press religiously. You may have a franchisee who's an avid hang glider and you discover the local Business Journal features business owners with unusual interests. Maybe your franchisee of the year was a U.S. Army general and a franchise magazine is seeking military vets who made it big in franchising. Or perhaps your industry publication is spotlighting "innovative start-ups" and your company is the first to franchise a segment of the business.
- Never say another publication is running your story -- Old news is no news, and editors are easily irritated by that comment. Be careful. "Just because another media outlet picked up on your press release, how does that have any relevance for us?" What you may think will get you into the news, in this case may do the reverse. Remember, writers and reporters love to "scoop" a story before their competition does.
- Order editorial calendars -- Get a schedule of feature stories planned for the next year. The media publishes them 6 to 12 months in advance, so get the lineups now and you'll increase your press potential by 30 to 50 percent. How often have you read an article or watched a local news broadcast that was a perfect fit for your franchise? Most franchisors miss out on these great press opportunities because they don't prepare. Knowing what's coming down the media road is like securing real estate sites in new shopping centers... the prime-time locations are locked up long before the "For lease" sign is planted in the ground.
- Follow their rules -- Ask each media source or outlet for tips on how they prefer your press releases; who to send them to; and in what format they would like to receive them. Sometimes these instructions are published on their website or provided through recorded instructions for you to follow.
Next time: More DIY tips, and how to optimize your online press.
This is an excerpt from my Amazon.com best-selling book, "Grow to Greatness: How to build a world-class franchise system faster." To order copies, click here.