No business wants to deal with any kind of crisis. Whether small or large, a business in crisis is a business in need of help. With franchise companies, even a small crisis may seem amplified because people all over the country, possibly all over the world, know the brand.
Last week, the crime and controversy around Subway’s former pitchman is solely around him – Jared Fogle. Fogle pleaded guilty to allegations that he paid for sex acts with minors and received child pornography. Legally speaking, Subway did nothing wrong. But how will customers react to the franchise in light of these allegations? It’s unclear.
Subway and Fogle have mutually benefited from their partnership. Fogle’s story resonated with people who understand the struggles of losing weight and eating healthy. Subway leaned on Fogle’s story for more than 15 years – making him a household name. He was featured on TV ads, newspaper and magazine ads, etc. But now the franchise is faced with trying to erase him from its history. Almost immediately after Fogle’s house was raided in July, Subway took action. It removed any mentions or reference to him on its website. Subway later requested that all franchisees to remove menu boards that had Fogle’s image on them. And took to Twitter for it’s only public comment on the issue, stating that Subway cut ties with Fogle.
Companies often like to have famous spokespeople for their brands. That person can give a relatable feeling to the public, often likening them to the brand. But all brands, franchise and otherwise, would be wise to heed caution. Or at the very least, have clauses in a contract drawn up with the potential spokesperson, allowing the franchise to use and remove association with that person if deems necessary. Subway has done that, and they acted swiftly in its their response to this crisis. Now, how will the public respond to that? It’s still too early too tell. But if there is one thing that is the biggest lesson for franchisors here, it is to have a plan. Speak to a franchise lawyer about the company’s rights and those of the spokesperson under any agreement signed.