Corporate Archivist, Financial Services Industry
Most organizations preparing to honor a milestone or company anniversary are likely to believe that celebrating an event of this magnitude can be accomplished with a beautiful published book. It’s a safe and easy solution that a corporate archivist like me would logically come to, given the volume of information and documents to which I have access.
Combining the shared history of employees, customers and shareholders is labor intensive and time consuming, even though the result is a positive and exciting event in a company history. But I quickly discovered, having participated in the planning and execution of a centennial anniversary, that a company’s archives and history – and the stories held within – can and should be used in more than just a print form. These unique moments can shape storylines that set the wheels in motion for an unconventional approach to a corporate anniversary – one that is fun and effective and that increases an organization’s visibility in all respects.
The financial services company for which I work celebrated its North American branch’s 100th anniversary in 2012. As the head corporate archivist at the corporate headquarters in Europe, I had known for a long time that our organization had applied for a business license in the United States in December 1912. I realized early on that an auspicious occasion like this one would have to be celebrated and saw the opportunity to educate our overseas colleagues about our work, which often takes place in obscurity.
I knew the items in our head office archive, especially those related to the establishment of the branch office, would be of decisive importance. The company’s centennial offered a unique opportunity in many respects, and our team collaborated on a plan that would spotlight those opportunities using an integrated approach. The company anniversary was just the starting point for a wide range of activities.
Our internal project team had less than a year to complete corporate anniversary planning. We conducted research to find and tell stories that were easy to sell and that tied together the past, present and future with fresh, durable insights. Some of the stories had only tenuous connections to the company but were compelling nonetheless and demonstrated our company’s connection to the American landscape:
- An acquired company was the lead insurer for the construction of the Hoover Dam, a structure with which virtually every American is familiar.
- As insurer and risk manager, our company also played a major role in the construction of Madison Square Garden in New York City.
- Our American colleagues were particularly taken by the discovery that Franklin Delano Roosevelt worked for one of our company’s former subsidiaries before becoming a United States President. At the time, we were even in possession of the desk at which FDR sat when he was an employee.
These stories and many others offered us the chance to tie together four quarterly themes that aligned with and subtly spotlighted our organizational focuses. With those in mind, we set to work to create and execute a plan that would seamlessly connect all four themes in a way that would have the most impact on our constituents.
We started with a digital archive of all our important documents and accompanying images, scanned and saved so they could be used for other purposes irrespective of time and place. From here, everything else fell into place:
- An anniversary intranet page that was established by our internal communications team with information added weekly. By the anniversary’s conclusion, the site contained the complete North American history along with old ad campaigns, a timeline, film snippets from employee interviews, an event calendar and a page with all media clippings.
- An exhibit in our U.S. headquarters lobby that still stands today and honors our corporate organization’s history, including the integration of the acquired companies.
- A temporary traveling exhibit with rotating quarterly content that gave colleagues in other cities insights into the company’s history.
- Nearly 300 employee ”ambassadors” who actively supported the anniversary at more than 30 locations.
- An integrated marketing communications campaign that leveraged the company’s history and anniversary. This campaign included blog entries and Twitter messages, double-decker buses wrapped in giant posters, heritage-based advertising, films, newspaper ads and short messages on elevator displays. One of the largest components was a public relations campaign to showcase the uncovered FDR desk.
- Community outreach programs that gave employees the opportunity to do special charity work inspired by the anniversary.
Of course, we produced an anniversary book in both hard copy and digital form. We could have produced just the book, but it most likely would not have achieved the same results that the integrated campaign approach produced. The impact was meaningful, with some impressive results:
- 5,000 items, including texts, images and video, were electronically stored by the anniversary close.
- 61 percent of all employees actively participated in one of the anniversary activities.
- 82 percent of all employees stated that they were more familiar with the company history after the anniversary year.
- 50,000 hits were counted on the anniversary web portal within six months.
- 9,231 hours of employee charity work were logged during the anniversary year.
Many organizations around the world with milestone anniversaries in the coming years have an opportunity to educate their networks of stakeholders in addition to celebrating the occasion. How each chooses to do so is their mission, but as head archivist for a global organization, I now understand the importance of ensuring the moment does not take place in obscurity.
Using an integrated approach to understanding one’s organizational heritage through storytelling is a worthwhile endeavor. For my organization, the process, the plan and the results were a remarkable example of how history can have fantastic and measurable value for the company if it is “sold” properly.
The History Factory’s team was one of the primary reasons our corporate anniversary was so successful. They sold us on the importance of an integrated approach that highlighted the unique historical angles of our corporate heritage.
“Focus on the people behind the stories and the relevance today,” The History Factory team often said. We did, and their advice was sound, clearly reflected in all of the anniversary projects and supplemented by a team of historians, copywriters and graphic designers, as well as exhibit and anniversary book specialists. They all aligned with a common goal and collaborated effectively to ensure we were proud of our history and our anniversary.
The most surprising lesson, however, was that their encouragement was correct: approaching a company anniversary with intention is more effective than producing a conventional anniversary book.