Some years ago, a client of mine was featured in Entrepreneur magazine. The story generated thousands of leads, which, in the course of the next year, accounted for 70 franchise sales and, shortly thereafter, the sale of the franchise company for more than $3 million--all without ever spending a penny on franchise advertising.

Some years later, Krispy Kreme went from a relatively small regional chain to become the hottest franchise in the country--both at the consumer and franchise sales level--again because of publicity. (Of course, more recently, adverse publicity has contributed to the company losing millions in market capitalization.)

In the past several years, a number of our other clients have jumpstarted their franchise sales efforts with publicity:

  • Al Yeganeh's Original SoupMan, which gained national publicity long before Seinfeld's "Soup Nazi" episode, continues to receive worldwide attention--and, after announcing its new franchise program, has already received more than 2,000 franchise sales leads.
  • GarageTek, featured prominently in The Wall Street Journal and numerous other publications, sold 52 franchises in their first year with virtually no advertising.
  • Buttercup Bakeshop, featured on The Today Show, has received hundreds of leads from publicity, and her business, which recently sold its first franchises, is now going to be the subject of a reality TV series.

The Bottom Line: Press Sells.

Public Relations as a Lead Generation Tool

For the vast majority of franchisors, public relations is not responsible for a significant portion of franchise sales leads. But while the numbers of leads produced will likely be smaller than more traditional sources, such as the internet or print media, few methods of lead generation provide the quality of leads generated by publicity.

Leads generated by publicity carry the weight of a third-party endorsement, and as such, have one of the highest closing rates of any leads. The iFranchise Group's research into this area shows that PR is second only to referrals in terms of its "close rate"--the rate at which new leads convert to franchisees.

Generating Press

The first rule in generating press is that you have to have a story. The second is that you have to have an angle--the slant that presents the information in the story with a unique point of view. Perhaps just as important, the story angle should be timely and topical.

So, if your franchise really does have a story or two in it, what should you do first? While you might be tempted to try to generate your own press internally, this is generally not advisable. Unless you have talented writers with sales skills on staff, you should probably hire a good PR firm that specializes in franchising.

That's right, sales skills.

Obtaining press is at least as much about selling a good story as it is about writing one. While most people read the day's news oblivious to how it got there, the surprising truth is that 60 percent of the "news" found in the average newspaper was "placed" there by a PR firm. And the publicists who sold that story did so by convincing editors and writers that their audiences will want to read it.

A good PR firm specializing in franchising has numerous other advantages over internally generated PR. In particular, a good PR firm will:

  • Understand how to create a story and an angle that sells.
  • Have contacts within the industry who will take their calls when they're pitching your story.
  • Have knowledge of editorial calendars, as well as what has run in different publications over the last year, so it can tailor stories to a publication's specific needs.
  • Have the creativity and the instinct to "create news" by tying your franchise--and a story surrounding it--to topical trends or hard news events.
  • Provide a full-time and dedicated PR effort for the franchisor, and have the ability to turn up the jets when a big story arises.

Moreover, a PR firm can provide PR both for you and for your franchisees with equal effectiveness--providing your franchisees with increased value both when they first open their doors and on an ongoing basis.

The Press and Your Franchisees

One way to create news is to sell and open franchises. Fast growth through franchise sales is news--and can help new franchisors find a place on lists such as Entrepreneur's Franchise 500.

By its very nature, the sale and opening of a franchise are also opportunities for press at a local level. In addition to stories on the opening of a new business, a skilled publicist can also use this event as an opportunity to sell profile pieces on the franchisee and trend pieces touting the market served by the business.

At the unit level, one of the most effective tools for generating this press is through the use of a grand opening event. These events, which often occur after the actual opening (called a "soft opening"), are geared toward publicizing the franchisee's business, both by targeting its future customers and by inviting local notables and the press. And, since the story is local, it is generally easier to obtain this publicity based on the angle of "local entrepreneur makes good" and "look who showed up." While grand opening techniques vary based on the type of business being promoted, they are often a vital mechanism for jumpstarting unit-level sales and profitability.

Finally, good publicity achieved for your franchisees will have the incremental benefit of promoting good franchisee relations. Franchisees who get off to a good start are, of course, happier. Seeing their names in the newspaper and knowing the franchisor was partially responsible for placing that story engenders early enthusiasm.

Since nothing sells franchises as fast as satisfied franchisees, franchise PR is integral to many franchisors' development strategy.