Effective Franchise Advisory Council Meetings: 10 Ways to Balance Listening and Leadership

Jan bio photo
Jan Muhleman
January 30, 2014
January 30, 2014

Having worked with franchise systems for over 30 years, we strongly believe that franchise advisory councils are critically important for successful development and implementation of programs for the system. There are many different forms of councils. Some deal with broad system and policy issues. Others might have a narrower role, such as advising on marketing or product distribution. There are also different degrees of decision-making authority as assigned by the franchisor. Some are purely advisory. Others might have fiduciary responsibility. Councils usually have a defined set of bylaws that spell out their role, responsibilities, election process and management structure.


Effective Franchise Advisory Council

We recently had the opportunity to present to a newly formed franchise marketing council. The purpose of the meeting was to begin planning a new marketing program. Although the bylaws were not finalized, the franchisor was committed to total transparency and providing the council with considerable decision-making authority.

re:group and the franchisor marketing team had prepared a budget and recommended spending plan for the coming year. We had previously laid the foundation by establishing the need for a national marketing program and presenting objectives, strategies and possible tactics to the council. However, the franchisor wanted the council to feel that they would play an active role in the direction of the fund. There was concern that if we walked in with a defined plan and budget, we would give the impression that spending decisions were already made.

Rather than start with the plan, we began the meeting by recapping our objectives and strategies and accumulating desired outcomes from our franchisees. It was a good approach to get the group talking together. Some members of the group were new and they had been taken through a special orientation the day prior where we reviewed our research and conclusions, so everyone was able to participate in the discussion.

We then began to present a number of tactics that they could consider and prioritize. They were provided score sheets to rate their level of interest in each one. It seemed like a good way to get them to give us feedback as we presented. However, we did not give them the overall budget or the flowchart; we presented the tactics individually. There were a lot of opportunities to discuss and it became clear we were overwhelming them. After all, we had spent months working on the plan and we expected them to grasp it in a few hours. It wasn’t happening.

On break, one of the council members suggested that the meeting would move along faster if we just gave them the plan and our rationale for why were made the recommendations that we did. They did not want to debate each potential tactic, but rather wanted to be “sold” and convinced that we knew what we were doing in making the recommendation. We shifted gears to accommodate their request and were able to reach agreement on the first six months of our proposed plan before the meeting end.

The meeting was a good reminder that there is a delicate balance between soliciting input and selling ideas to participatory decision making groups such as advisory councils. Because this was the first official meeting of the group and they had not yet elected a Chair, re:group and the corporate team were probably overly cautious in our approach. The following are some basic principles to follow when working with advisory councils:

    1. Discuss with the council how they want to receive information, its format, content and frequency. What do they want to receive in advance of the meeting? What will be presented in the meeting? What updates do they wish to receive between meetings? You probably have to suggest a communication schedule as council members likely have no prior experience with the cadence or content you need them to address.
    2. Develop a standardized format for approval of major projects. For example, this may include a single sheet that outlines the objective, strategies, target audiences, expected performance metrics/ROI, costs, production/implementation timeline, etc. Use it consistently when presenting projects for approval.
    3. Present individual projects in the context of the overall plan. Marketing programs are always most effective when they are part of an integrated plan. You might break it down into percentages spent on different programs. For example, what percentage of the budget is spent on awareness media verses lead generation; digital versus traditional media; one target audience versus another.
    4. If the council has an elected Chair and Vice Chair, work with them in advance of the meeting to develop the agenda. Make sure they know which decisions need to be made in the meeting and which are for discussion only.
    5. Read your audience and change your approach if you sense you are losing their attention. It is okay to suggest that they take a bio-break while you discuss with their leadership how to re-engage the council members.
    6. Respect the decision-making role of the committee, but help them understand why they should vote for your recommendations. They may want you to sell them on your idea. You need to be the expert that they trust. Present data that supports your recommendations. If you have the opportunity and budget, test concepts in advance and base your recommendation on the results of the test market.
    7. Create excitement and enthusiasm for your recommended programs. Paint the picture for what the results could be. Use visuals and graphics wherever possible. Get them excited about sharing the ideas with their franchisee constituents. Enlist them in creating buzz about the program before it is launched.
    8. Don’t overpromise. You want to build excitement and enthusiasm, but the worst thing you can do is raise expectations that you don’t deliver on when the program is executed. If you set ROI goals, make them realistic. If you cite test market results, qualify them based on the market conditions of the test.
    9. Make it simple and easy. Complex programs are not only hard to sell to an advisory council, they are really hard to sell and implement in the system. The more turnkey, the better.
    10. Develop a system communications plan that they can help execute. Part of the job of every council member is to communicate with his or her franchisee constituents. Help them do their job by developing a system communications plan with their input. Give them a role at regional and national meetings. Let them become the voice of the program. Ask them to provide updates from the field at each meeting. Finally, don’t forget to brief your corporate consultants as well. Make sure they are as informed and up to date as your franchisees.

Do you have any tips of your own? We’d love to see them in the Comments section.

Photo Credit: Flickr’s Dell Inc.