The relationship between franchisees and franchisors can be contentious
at times. With today's instant access to a worldwide audience, the
resolution of conflict, before escalation, is imperative for the franchised
owner, the system and the franchisor. Freedom of speech applies to blogs,
websites, comments to articles, Facebook, Linkedin and the like. If negative
opinions are being publicly communicated, clearly that party has not been
able to resolve their issues, and is seeking justice in the court of popular
opinion. The problem is that "justice" can also serve to hamper
the same franchised system the complainer is a part of.
Franchise participants need to be aware of discontent, and begin to address
it early. Sweeping it under the rug, ignoring it or being defensive just
causes the flames of anger to swell.
Golob v Kelley a California court found in favor of a website owner that had posted negative
opinions and disparaging but true facts about a franchise founder. Mr.
Golob sued, claiming he was injured by the comments.
As you will see in
recounting the drama, the court ruled against Mr. Golob and required him
to pay the opposing parties attorney's fees. The court clearly opined
that the expressions of discontent are protected speech, as is the statement
of fact, even if it is negative and harmful to a parties reputation.
In my experience the best systems have a dispute resolution mechanism already
embedded in their process. It may be a single franchisor representative
who acts as an ombudsman of sorts, or a mediation program, allowing parties
to work towards resolution through a neutral, but they understand; getting
past the dispute and back to business is key.