Women should seek out mentors or coaches to help them make the leap into leadership positions, Focus Brands senior vice president of corporate and brand communications Dawn Ray tells Doug Simon in the latest “PR’s Top Pros Talk” video interview.

Those coaches and mentors don’t necessarily have to be female, she says. “The reality is, if you look at the senior leaders at a certain level and above in corporate America today, there are women, absolutely, but it's primarily men. And so, you’ve got to look for the right mentor and the right coach, no matter if it's men or women.”

Focus Brands is the home of such well-known outlets as Moe’s Southwest Grill, McAllister’s Deli, Schlotzky’s and Carvel, and Ray talks with Simon about the problems franchise businesses are facing in the time of COVID and the pandemic.

She notes that individual franchises often face high expectations from consumers, who expect every branch of a chain to meet the same standards and feel familiar to them. “With that come some challenges,” Ray says.

The challenges also extend into the legal realm, and Ray stresses the importance of communicators staying in sync with the legal teams at their companies. “Your legal team is responsible for mitigating risk and making sure you're protected legally. A lot of times that's hard to translate into how real people think and communicate.”

And since different locations are operating under different COVID-imposed regulations, keeping track of those disparities is something that both communicators and their legal teams have to keep in mind.

Ray says that to stay on top of such a situation, policies and communications need to be aligned across a company. At Focus, “if one brand was experiencing something, chances are the other brands were experiencing it as well,” she tells Simon. “We set up a lot of webinars, a lot of tools and resources to help them navigate.”

It also demands centralized leadership. “We had not been centralized for a long time, and ‘centralized’ is not a bad word,” Ray said. “ You sort of have to work your way around it and message about its efficiencies and being more effective and using economies of scale.”

And coming back to opportunities for advancement, Ray offers this advice: “It's always being willing to do some of the things that nobody else wants to do, or to do what you're asked to do. You never know where it may lead.”

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