The Zika Virus: Mosquito Squad’s Communication Rules from Real Life

GettyImages-506042034-compressorAs spring—and mosquito season—broke, fears rose across the United States about mosquito bites of pregnant mothers leading to a skull-misshaping birth defect called microcephaly.

It was up to Chris Grandpre, CEO of Outdoor Living Brands, which owns the Mosquito Squad franchise, to decide how to monetize the opportunity. “Clearly, mosquito-borne diseases were in the public consciousness,” Grandpre says. “So how would we and our franchisees add to this public discussion without being seen as exploiting the issue for business gain, or as fear-mongering?” After all, Mosquito Squad’s team members were “not medical or global-health experts or governmental-response agencies.”

The company decided on education rather than marketing per se, “on saying that, whether or not you hire Mosquito Squad, there are a bunch of things that you can do—on the residential side or in commercial properties—that lessen the chances of attracting mosquitos.” Instead of a sensationalistic approach, Grandpre says, “We focused on being the experts at reducing breeding grounds” in blog posts and other information on franchisees’ web sites.

The Zika plan was a primary example of the kind of strategic communications strategy pursued by Grandpre in part to avoid the temptation to over-communicate for the Richmond, Virginia-based concern, whose other brands include exterior maintenance, lighting and furniture franchises. “The proliferation of communications tools that now exist forces me, as the leader of the organization, to think more consciously about how to communicate with all of our constituencies,” he says.

“How would we and our franchisees add to this public discussion without being seen as exploiting the issue for business gain, or as fear-mongering?”

So Grandpre put together three rules “that we try to follow, and ask our team to follow, in communicating with customers, internally, with lenders, investors and franchisees—whomever we might be talking to.”

They are:
1. Clarity trumps frequency. While some experts maintain that companies can never communicate too much, externally or internally, “I would argue that lack of clarity is the biggest problem,” Grandpre says. The company has dramatically reduced the quantity of its communications “and emphasized packaging our messages thoughtfully, constantly scaling them back to fewer—but more substantive.”

2. There must be a reason. He stresses tying each internal outgoing message to some aspect of Outdoor Living’s mission and strategic plan, which helps motivate employees, and, in the case of franchisees, helps them improve operations. “If we do that, communicating the ‘why’ behind everything we do, everyone’s listening and adoption rates tend to be much higher,” Grandpre explains.

3. Depth is a crucial dimension. Each target audience and each message demands the right depth. “If I communicate at too surface a level, it automatically lacks clarity and I can run the risk of being misunderstood,” Grandpre explains. “But I don’t want to communicate too much or too frequently or I might get into things I don’t need to.”

“I have to consciously think about what the right level of depth is, and as the company has grown I’ve had to adjust my style,” he adds. “Sometimes less of the right communications is actually more.”

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Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.

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