Massage Envy Finds Itself Naked in a Crisis

By Gene Grabowski

How is it possible that a company that employs more than 20,000 massage therapists in 1,200 spas across the United States has no apparent crisis communications plan and remains mute about nearly 200 sexual assault lawsuits against its employees?

Massage Envy spas finds itself virtually naked in the midst of a national crisis, with no meaningful response to the growing attack on its brand.

Melanie Hansen, general counsel of Massage Envy Franchising, told news reporters the company has worked hard to create the industry's "most stringent, rigorous policies" for hiring, screening, and training therapists.

"We hold franchise owners accountable to our policies and, when we say nothing is more important to us than treating clients with respect and giving them a safe, professional experience, we mean it," said Ms. Hansen, who noted that Massage Envy has a “zero-tolerance” policy regarding inappropriate touching.

But Massage Envy, which operates in every U.S. state except Wyoming, has no policy that compels franchisees to notify law enforcement or to hire qualified investigators to help determine what happened. In court filings and in public statements, Massage Envy said it is not liable for sexual assaults that take place at the spas because of the nature of its franchise arrangement.

Really? Well if that’s the case, what does that say about Massage Envy’s quality control? McDonald’s works with hundreds of thousands of franchisees around the world and holds each one to strict standards for quality, safety and cleanliness. And I know for a fact the global quick-service restaurant has a sound crisis communications plan.

Okay, so what can Massage Envy do now to manage this crisis?

First, the Scottsdale, AZ based company needs to apologize for its past inability to better protect its member customers. It’s shocking that it hasn’t yet done so.

Next, the company would be well-advised to launch its own re-qualification program for all its franchisees, including implementing new provisions requiring franchisees to notify local law enforcement of any inappropriate actions by its massage therapists.

Finally, Massage Envy should require all its massage therapists, as a condition of employment, to undergo standardized training about the rules regarding inappropriate touching and the consequences of doing so. None should touch a customer until he or she has completed the training.

Oh, and the company needs to prepare and test a crisis communications plan for the next inevitable crisis, so that it can cover itself with more than just a towel.

If you’re looking for someone with over 25 years of crisis communications + issues management experience who can help you build and protect your reputation, contact Gene directly.


Gene is a Partner at kglobal. He is focused on creating and managing successful campaigns for corporations, trade associations, non-profits and universities. Gene was named Crisis Manager of the Year for his effective work on numerous high-stakes issues and speaks frequently on strategic crisis management. He writes about trends in issues management and public relations. You can follow him on Twitter @crisisguru, read his tips on the kglobal blog or e-mail him.