How One PR Agency Turned Franchise Marketing Upside Down
How One PR Agency Turned Franchise Marketing Upside Down

A cohesive plan connecting all forms of marketing, advertising, digital, PR and social media efforts disrupts franchise development strategies

1851 Franchise’s sister company, No Limit Agency, has always been a trailblazer in franchise public relations. Its founder and CEO, Nick Powills, predicted that social media was going to become a critical tactic for companies to promote themselves over a decade ago. And now, 10 years later, social media is an essential element of nearly every major brand’s marketing strategy and widely considered one of the most effective methods to engage with customers and spread brand awareness.

Powills also pioneered a different approach to public relations. He knew that blasting out a canned press release about a franchise opening to media lists didn’t net results. Instead, he selectively crafted human-interest pitches and forged personal relationships with reporters.

After years of designing forward-thinking approaches to franchise PR, including an expansion of service offerings like website development, creative strategy and design, email marketing, media buys and PPC, Powills had another breakthrough. What if he brought someone onto his team who had first-hand experience selling franchises? That person, Powills supposed, could work directly with No Limit’s clients to craft development strategy and best practices. A simple idea, and yet, no other franchise PR firm offered franchise development strategy.

That’s what inspired No Limit Agency to work with Sean Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald started his own franchise, Pickups Plus, Inc., before selling franchises for national brands including Wireless Zone, Quiznos and BrightStar. Powills invited Fitzgerald onto the team as chief development strategist, hoping that the franchise veteran’s wealth of insight into the industry would translate to applicable guidance for franchise development teams.

The gambit paid off. Fitzgerald quickly optimized No Limit’s strategy to target the best candidates for each individual franchise brand. And Fitzgerald had no shortage of development advice for No Limit’s clients.

“Digital is playing more and more of an important role in franchise development and recruitment,” Fitzgerald said. “There are a lot of facets, but it all starts with your website. The most important thing is that it’s visually appealing, simple and clean. You’ve got a few seconds to capture somebody’s attention, so you really need to have strong talking points to encourage someone to inquire or continue deeper into the site. One of the misses I see a lot is brands that have a really nice consumer site but a very template-basic development site. And that’s a larger theme across the industry; brands need to not only do the right things, but do them right.”

According to Fitzgerald, once a brand has a knockout development site, they need to focus on driving their audience to that site. Fitzgerald recommends a number of different strategies to do this, including PPC, social media, content marketing and email campaigns.

“One of the recent trends I’ve noticed is traditional marketing becoming less and less effective and digital becoming more and more effective, so brands are moving to that,” Fitzgerald said. “Once you get them to the website, retargeting campaigns and increased impressions will come. Brands focused less on getting more leads and more on getting in front of the right audience are having much better success than those that are hyper-focused on lead gen.”

For brands that focus on building buzz and implementing strategies that create awareness, leads will come, Fitzgerald maintains. Those that focus only on leads may not be telling a great story and are just spinning their wheels.

“I’ve seen brands that a year ago were spending a significant amount of money on PPC, but it wasn’t effective. Again, it was that difference between doing the right things and doing things right,” Fitzgerald said. “They focused on digital but applied consumer tactics to franchise development, and the problem with that is that consumer tactics are very impulsive, but purchasing a franchise is not an impulse buy, so the tactics should be completely different.”

Since joining No Limit Agency, one of Fitzgerald’s goals has been educating brands, and many clients have shifted from a focus on PPC to a more selective content-marketing-oriented approach as a result. By writing stories that the brand wants to tell to franchise prospects and using No Limit’s AMPD tool, which targets content marketing to the most relevant audiences, brands are telling their story to the exact audience that matches their ideal profile candidate.

By implementing that strategy with 1851 Franchise’s content-marketing platform, Fitzgerald has seen brands more than double their leads and hit annual development goals in six months.

Fitzgerald points to Sylvan Learning as an example of the new strategy’s success.

Sylvan Learning had already had a relationship with No Limit Agency for years. No Limit worked with Sylvan to pitch franchisee stories and business development to local, trade and national media outlets. Encouraged by the success of that partnership, Sylvan’s team was interested to see how No Limit might be able to help with its franchise development strategy.

No Limit crafted a plan to tell Sylvan’s story through a new franchise development website and focusing on their digital strategy, utilizing content marketing to improve their positioning among the strongest candidates. Monitoring the results, Sylvan and No Limit saw direct conversion with target audiences and an influx of new leads.

“No Limit Agency and took note of what they were hearing from multiple franchise development executives, which was that prospects are looking for more information about the brands they were considering,” said Georgia Chasen, senior director of franchise development at Sylvan, “And because 1851 is so nimble in how they determine a strategy, creating a path forward and implementing next steps immediately, we were able to address that concern right away.”

Chasen continued, “On the technology side, I liked that they were doing something unique that fit with other platforms available. We’re able to AMP stories targeted to candidates who can visualize themselves as a Sylvan franchisee through these editorial stories. And the stories are packaged in a digital format that is very user-friendly and slick.”

Chasen has been in franchise development for 10 years, and she’s seen a number of trends come and go. She believes that it’s worth revisiting past strategies and making them more relevant for today while not necessarily accepting tactics just because they are the way things have been done traditionally.

“Knowing that my experience with online advertising for franchise development won’t necessarily net us actual leads, I look to 1851 and Google campaigns to connect with candidates that aren’t looking just at Sylvan but at other franchise brands as well,” Chasen said. “I think in the world of sponsored content, it’s incredibly important to find a human connection to the story, and 1851 does that.”

Another brand that utilizes No Limit Agency for both traditional public relations and content marketing is Signal 88 Security. The brand was looking for a new PR firm, and they wanted to work with a company that understands franchise development and how to work with franchisees to craft compelling stories.

“We always want to highlight our business model in the franchise development press, and the 1851 platform helps us catalog and promote all their placement,” said Laura Vodvarka, VP of innovation at Signal 88 Security. “It’s not just about getting these spots published, but helping us gain traction and using them correctly; that’s what we were looking for, and No Limit Agency helped us extend the life of the placements they book.”

No Limit Agency also worked on Signal 88’s franchise development website and has helped with their franchise development strategy.

“We have been able to talk with Sean and Scott [Oaks, another franchise development strategist at No Limit] about diving into our franchise development strategy with their experts,” Vodvarka said. “The people on their team are able to give us real world advice and to talk about what they’ve seen work for other brands. They advise us on where modern marketing is heading and they help us best utilize That tool has been incredibly helpful in compiling and housing the PR spots we’re getting, as well as the editorial their team creates. It’s crafting and placing stories about what we’re doing in a way we hadn’t seen before. Being able to hone in on the things our brand is doing in a way that we can use for advertising has been super helpful.”

The benefits of No Limit’s unique combination of targeted PR and content marketing has proven wildly effective for a number of disparate brands. Every brand has different marketing needs, and No Limit’s multifaceted approach allows them to create custom solutions to help franchise development teams drive brand awareness and get the right material in front of the right candidates.