Mark Tanis points with pride to the results of an early project - working with Holland on its downtown development plans. Photo by Johnny Quirin
One challenging aspect of interviewing business leaders is they often prefer talking about their team rather than themselves. Mark Tanis, president of The Image Group, is no exception.
Tanis regularly mentions his team as he talks about his communication company’s achievements and his personal highlights of the past 26 years. In fact, it was an unexpected collaboration in the first months The Image Group was in business that changed his mind about working with a team.
“I always thought it would just be myself, and I never really wanted to have employees,” he said with a laugh. “I probably shouldn’t say it that way.”
Three months in and with more work than he could handle, Tanis collaborated with someone else on a project.
“It was a very sizeable project,” he said. “After the project was completed, I got a letter from the client complimenting me on (the other person’s) work, and a light bulb went off that there were a whole lot of people that were better at it than I actually was, and that the feeling I had of getting that letter was a far better feeling than if I would have gotten the letter (about) myself … and that is how it started.
“I thought this would be a fun thing to do, if we could have an organization that had other likeminded people working in the same direction.”
Today, The Image Group has a team of 16 and is in the process of hiring for a few more positions. When Tanis responded to the question of what makes him, after 26 years, still want to get out of bed and go to work every day, he said: “The people here. … These are really good people, and I get excited about seeing what they are going to do and being a part of the team with them. The things that they do and the quality with which they do it — that would motivate anybody to be around that.”
Tanis said he has a habit of looking forward rather than backward, which has served him well in an industry that is constantly presenting changes and requiring retooling of solutions to fit communication needs.
“Our industry, if you think of 26 years, there has been some radical changes in the kinds of things that we would be responsible for,” he said. “Someone else said this about us — that we’ve reinvented ourselves a few times over our history.”
Tanis points to the web development portion of the business, saying there was a time when he had 15 employees dedicated to web development, but now the tools and needs have changed. Overall, he said, the same skill sets are needed but the nature of how the work is accomplished has altered.
Changing technology and the new opportunities it presents excite him.
“We need to understand the technology and decide whether that medium is appropriate for communication in the approach for our clients,” he said.
“We aren’t shy about the future. We embrace it and we want to be a part of it, so we are on the leading edge, a lot of times, on research and looking at what’s new and what’s next and how to best both use the tools and be effective in our communication and our culture.”
Tanis considers himself lucky to have the opportunity to build relationships with people in other industries and learn about what they are trying to achieve with their businesses, building partnerships with them to get their message out.
He has a lot of regional pride and sees The Image Group in terms of how it can help promote the region.
“All of us here look forward to where we can have impact and positively influence this whole region and put it on the map nationally as just a phenomenal place to work and live.”
In fact, one of the firm’s first projects was working with the city of Holland on its downtown development plans. “That is a highlight, because today we look at it and this is a pretty cool spot. There is tons of activity. It’s just amazing what’s happened in the last two years here and to know what it was way back in the beginning.”
The region is taking notice of Tanis, too.
He was honored this year with an American Advertising Federation West Michigan Silver Medal. The award is the AAF’s highest honor, given to professionals who have made outstanding contributions to the advertising and marketing industry and who have been active in furthering creative excellence and responsibility in areas of social concern.
Both AAF West Michigan President Nick Katsarelas and Adrianna Snyder, a team member at The Image Group, called Tanis a “true visionary” for his accomplishments.
Snyder said in her remarks about Tanis: “As a true visionary, Mark was one of the first in the region to look ahead at new markets. He quickly saw a need in education for better communication strategies. The Image Group began working with Holland Christian Schools and Hope College. Mark realized the size of the opportunity and hired staff to pursue this industry as their sole focus. Today, because of his foresight, The Image Group is known in education circles around the country and works with a broad client list that includes Western Michigan University, South Dakota State University, Broward County Public Schools and Tabor College to name a few.”
Tanis said he is humbled and surprised by the recognition.
“It comes from peers, so in that regard, that’s what I value the most,” he said.
The Image Group has provided Tanis with the opportunity to work with people from across the country and even to travel abroad and experience different cultures.
“We aren’t just Holland, Michigan. We’ve been in the desert in Egypt, we’ve been in Africa, and it just broadens your perspectives.
“One of the most important things is we like to have a positive impact in what we do. We hope to change things for the better — whether it’s the companies we serve or the people we serve. We hope that, at the end, things end up better for them than when they started.”
Even some of the challenges it’s experienced have helped move the company forward. Tanis points to the early 2000s when The Image Group was expanding its presence to include a Chicago office. Then Sept. 11 occurred, and the advertising and marketing industries took a huge hit. Tanis said it was not an easy year, but the company survived.
Today, Tanis notes his team is investing heavily in training and education. Several of the team members have attended Holland’s New North Center, a program designed to teach business people about innovation.
“It’s an educational process on innovation and it’s had a huge influence on our organization, on how we think and how we pursue and work on new projects, and they’ve been a wonderful stimulus to educating and mentoring the organization here. We are spending probably the most energy and resources ever in educating people here than we have in our history.
“I think the longer you do it, you realize that the important things are the people and working with people and, hopefully, treating them well and having fun doing it. And my role happens to be, for this season, owning the business, so that’s what I’m doing, but I have tremendous respect for those who work here.”