How To Handle Bad Publicity When It's Not Your Fault

Being a franchisee offers you the ability to run a business with expert support and advice and the branding and customer recognition that comes with being part of a major brand, but what happens when a PR issue arises that affects the brand, even if you and your business weren't personally involved?

This is the question facing many Tim Hortons franchisees at the moment, following recent news articles [1] about contaminated soup products at a number of restaurants in southwestern Ontario and Alberta.


Franchisor To Lead On Public Communications

The most important thing is to allow your franchisor to lead on communications, especially where the press is concerned. This is because they will have sought appropriate legal advice and will be delivering a consistent corporate message that is designed to reassure consumers that the matter is understood and under control.

If your business is completely unaffected, it may be very tempting to promote this fact on your website or social media feeds, but you should not do so without the approval of your franchisor, who may have specific wording that they would like you to use in order to maintain consistency throughout the entirety of the franchise operation.


Product Management

Again, you should be guided by your franchisor when it comes to managing your products. If they determine that there is no way that your product can be affected by the publicity incident, they will most likely allow you to continue selling it with a disclaimer that explains why it is safe to do so.

If your franchisor insists that the product be disposed of, you should clarify with them what this means for you. Will you be compensated for the lost product, or will it be replaced with a new product of equal value?


Honesty and Trust

By working together with your franchisor to deliver a consistent message to your customers, you will go a long way toward reassuring them that your business and brand is in total control of the situation and able to make the best of it.

If you are asked specific questions by customers in the store, it is important to be honest. Explain what happened, and if your business was not affected, let them know that this is the case. Do not feel pressured into providing details above and beyond those released by the franchisor; instead, point them in the direction of corporate communications if they feel that they need extra reassurance or support.