‘So much more that needs to be planned’

Dan Tarantin on how CEO communication has changed

Franchise industry veteran Dan Tarantin last year moved the leadership of Harris Research, the parent of the Chem-Dry and N-Hance cleaning services brands, to a new regional HQ in The Gulch. Before joining with Baird Capital to buy Harris Resources in 2011, Tarantin led auto insurer Direct General, Progeny Marketing Innovations and tax preparers Jackson Hewitt. He sat down with Post Editor Geert De Lombaerde to talk about how leaders can and should communicate now versus 10 or 15 years ago. Here are some of his thoughts.

"There’s so much more information being thrown at people than 10 or 15 years ago. We’re now fighting for space and attention along with a lot of other brands during people’s very busy days. And technology has created more distractions for people at the same time it’s opened up new avenues and channels to communicate with them. The result is that simply having a recognizable brand name today — even a large and well-known one — doesn’t give you the same access to your audience that it used to, nor should it. You have to earn it.

Because there is so much more to compete with than just traditional competitors, there is so much more that needs to be planned. That’s a big difference from 15 years ago. I’m spending more of my time in a structured way. Part of that is because, like many companies, we have multiple offices. We have our largest base of operations and western regional headquarters in Logan, Utah, an eastern regional headquarters in Nashville and a shipping and distribution facility in Ohio as well as some employees who work remotely. On top of that, we have over 1,000 franchise owners across the U.S.

About six months ago, we started a CEO blog for our franchisees — who we consider to be our customers — and we publish a new post each week. When we first started the blog, the first couple of posts were about the importance of communication, our vision for the business and what our key priorities were. Since laying that groundwork, our weekly articles have covered topics such as new product launches, franchisee success stories, areas of the business that we’re working to grow, and more.

It’s been a great tool for us and it’s gotten a good response from our franchisees. At Jackson Hewitt Tax Services 10 years ago, I didn’t have that type of tool available to me. It’s really taken the place of a memo when it comes to communicating news. In a way, the medium is almost more important than the announcement these days. You’re sending a signal that you’re an open organization.

And it’s much more conversational, which is increasingly how we all communicate. Think of the power of online consumer reviews versus traditional advertising; I read in a recent study that 90 percent of consumers trust peer reviews of businesses or brands, while only 17 percent trust advertising. That’s a staggering change from five, let alone 10, years ago.

But at the same time, everything is so fluid now that you have to adjust. The pace of change is so quick today, you can see — and we have seen — companies completely go away because they lost their relevance in a changing market.

With all of these new tools, it’s a lot easier to reach the CEO. To manage those communications, you need to be in front of the agenda rather than reactive. To cut through the clutter, there’s still nothing like a conversation. I set aside time each week to contact franchisees, whether it’s to get their feedback on a topic, to respond to a message or simply to talk about their business.

I’d estimate that I talk to 15 franchisees each week. That’s usually some of the most valuable, most insightful time I have each week because it both grounds me in where we are today and helps clarify what we need to do to push the business forward.

We’ve also invested in our annual franchisee conventions. We’ve really worked hard to get more franchisees to attend this year and we’ll have 20 percent of our franchisees for both our brands attending. That’s double our attendance from a year ago. We understand the need to get together face to face with our franchisees and allow them time to build and strengthen relationships and learn from each other."