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Why Sylvan Learning Decided to Launch a Virtual Conference in Result of Hurricane Irma
The corporate team took safety precautions and cancelled the franchise’s annual conference, but still had content to distribute for the system’s greater good

With a close eye on Hurricane Irma’s path, Sylvan Learning’s corporate team had a tough decision to make with a conference scheduled in Orlando on the exact Sunday that the hurricane was making its way up the western coast of Florida. With hundreds of franchisees, vendors and corporate team members planning to make their way down to Florida, while residents who live in Southern and coastal Florida had been evacuating, the team made a final call to cancel the conference.

But what about all of the valuable content that the corporate team had been working on for months?

Putting on a conference and preparing for the speeches and presentations takes a lot of time, so it seemed like a waste to just forget about it. One of the many reasons to hold an annual franchise system conference is to bring together franchisees of all levels – new and experienced, single territory and multi-unit operators, people who have been opened for decades and those in the build-out stage – all to come to one place, share best practices, learn about corporate’s vision, and be able to take the tools to succeed back to their centers and implement them for efficiency and business optimization.

Sylvan’s leadership team decided to act fast, adjust with poise and launch a virtual conference in which a series of videos are being released weekly over the course of two months to the system, distributing the content that would have been available at the annual conference. Each Friday, franchisees receive a We are Sylvan email that provides them with a link to a new selection of recorded videos and webinars. The first video came out the Friday ahead of the Sunday that the conference was supposed to begin. It featured the announcement for the virtual conference from CEO John McAuliffe addressing the system. The videos were structured similarly to how the content would have been distributed in person. After the first week’s opening session presentations, education videos were sent to the system, followed by videos showcasing franchise development incentives, marketing updates, award announcements, the system’s financial analysis, plans for operational excellence, and so forth.

“We work really hard on all of the curriculum that we think is important to franchisees and the annual conference is our one face to face touch point each year,” said McAuliffe. “We wanted to make sure that we could still deliver in-depth updates instead of just traditional webinars, which is why we decided to create videos and organize regional meetings.”

Sylvan’s corporate team chose eight cities across the U.S. and Canada to hold meetings in which corporate attendees met with franchisees for two days. The eight cities were chosen so that franchisees could pick the most convenient location to them wherever they are located with options planned out each week from October through December.

“We wanted to deliver content in multiple ways so that our system can still get value from everything that we put together with the unfortunate cancellation of the traditional three day conference format,” said McAuliffe. “We want our franchisees to know that we are there to support them and give them the tools needed to be successful. We turned our September Town Hall Meeting into an open forum for franchisees to address anything that we would have discussed at annual conference because we always welcome feedback and know its important to keep the communication flowing on each side in a franchisee-franchisor relationship.”

Franchisees look forward to attending the conference each year, and it was initially a disappointment that they wouldn’t be able to attain the knowledge and see their fellow franchisees whom they’ve created relationships with from past conferences. Caren and Craig Beckett have been in the system for almost 20 years, own seven locations across Northwest and Central Ohio, and have attended more than 15 annual conferences.

“I was obviously upset, and not at anybody but the situation, but safety came first,” said Caren Beckett. “It’s a huge event that you look forward to ever year and I’ve made a lot of connections with franchisees across the U.S., and it’s the only time I get to see them. You also get to learn about what’s coming down the pipeline in the system and meet with people from the corporate office.”

So Sylvan’s corporate team felt it was critical to bring the content to franchisees like Caren who were excited to attend conference. It is impossible to give the system the interactions they missed, but it was possible to create engaging and informative videos.

“So far, I think the content has been great. In essence, there’s a lot of information that they were going to share live, and they were able to turn around very quickly and get us that information,” said Beckett. “I have staff watching the videos who wouldn’t have been able to go to conference, and they are able to see this information and they’re learning a lot from it. They did a great job trying to motivate us from the very first video and I’ve been really impressed with how they’re able to get the info to us and share it.”

In the end, both from the corporate team’s perspective and franchisee’s perspective, training is a good thing no matter how it is delivered.

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