Because anniversaries don’t happen often, your organization probably doesn’t have a polished internal playbook for them—or any tried-and-true methods for your teams to refer to or fall back on. So when your next milestone is approaching, it’s normal to feel lost. For better or worse, anniversaries can present a once-in-a-generation opportunity—and challenge.

So it’s a game-changer when top-tier organizations get the opportunity to learn how their peers have successfully planned and executed anniversaries. And that’s where our annual The Anniversary Marketing Summit (TAMS) event comes in.

Held virtually this year, TAMS once again provided panelists from industry-leading enterprises with an opportunity to share their innovative ideas, concepts and stories about how to best leverage upcoming anniversary milestones to drive business objectives forward.

Whether you missed out or simply want a refresher as you begin to plan, we’ve rounded up some top takeaways, key insights and memorable quotes from our panelists: Katie Coldwell (Southwest Airlines), Taylor Clark (USAA), Jamie Richardson (White Castle), Mitchell Kaneff (Arkay) and Ethan McCarty (Integral).

Here’s what they had to say.

Takeaway #1: Involve Stakeholders From the Start To Achieve an Authentic Theme

When Katie Coldwell, senior director of corporate communications and citizenship at Southwest Airlines, and her team were contemplating their 50th anniversary, Southwest’s employee-first culture was a top priority. How could they make their dedicated workforce feel included and engaged in the big celebration?

“The first thing we did was we went out and talked to our employees,” Coldwell said. “We knew we wanted to be unexpected, to be inclusive, to be individualized, to be local, to be bold, and to be meaningful,” she said. “We wanted to make sure we did right by everyone.”

Doing right by everyone meant reaching out and gathering thoughts and ideas from individuals outside of the marketing and communications teams. It meant hearing from the people who knew the company best: its employees. So with help from History Factory, Southwest crowdsourced its vision for the big milestone.

We kicked things off by conducting focus groups with employees across the country to get to the heart of what Southwest’s 50th anniversary should look like according to the workforce that made it what it was.

The early involvement of stakeholders brought clarity and focus to the final vision of the anniversary: 50 Years, One Heart. And Southwest’s mindful and broad engagement with diverse stakeholders guaranteed that the theme resonated with everyone. This fostered employee engagement (a great selling point to make to your boss) and ensured a successful event by establishing a strong vision.

Takeaway #2: It’s Never Too Early To Start Planning

You wouldn’t be the first to ask Jamie Richardson, vice president of marketing and public relations for White Castle, when the company started planning its 100th anniversary. He gets the question frequently.

“For us, it was something that literally we’ve been talking about every five years,” he said. “Especially after that 95th birthday, we started to imagine what the 100th could look like.” White Castle throws a “birthday party” every five years—but it wanted its 100th to be big.

To achieve this, White Castle started early. A small core group began brainstorming shortly after year 95, a process which intensified about two and a half years later: “We had an initial brainstorming session in 2018, knowing that the 100th was going to happen in 2021.”

Take it from Richardson: There’s no time like the present to start imagining the possibilities.

Planning your anniversary is daunting to begin with. But waiting too long to get the ball rolling can make it harder to execute a successful event. Whether you begin with initial brainstorming sessions or focus groups, it’s never too early to start talking about what you want your anniversary to look like.

Because White Castle started its planning process early, it was able to refine its ideas and execute a centennial celebration that measured up to those high hopes.

Takeaway #3: Lean on Your Organization’s Archival Assets

Financial services provider USAA was founded in 1922 when 25 U.S. Army officers came together in San Antonio, Texas. Major William Garrison, USAA’s first president, recorded the minutes of that meeting by hand. Taylor Clark, assistant vice president and executive sponsor for USAA’s centennial anniversary, used those minutes almost 100 years later to promote the upcoming milestone.

“I walked around with [this artifact] everywhere,” Clark said. “Even just having this now makes me nervous because it’s usually under heavy protection, but I am keeping it safe.”

Clark used this tangible piece of USAA heritage to tie new and longtime employees back to USAA’s history. It provided a concrete reminder that by working at USAA, they are part of something bigger than themselves.

Your company’s archival assets are a powerful resource. Whether you’re using it for storytelling, research, leadership guidance or thematic inspiration, your collection is chock-full of effective material.

As Clark said: “Use your history. Use those physical pieces to pull the story together.”

Takeaway #4: Use Your Company’s Anniversary To Show Appreciation for Your People

Ten percent of people feel underappreciated at work, according to Ethan McCarty, the founder and CEO of Integral, whose employee activation agency recently conducted a study about employee engagement.

“We saw some market increases in a couple of negative indicators,” he said. “Probably the most important one was a two-point increase, year over year, in the number of people feeling underappreciated at work.”

If you’ve been following recent debates around return to work mandates or “quiet quitting,” this might not come as a surprise. Many employees feel that workplaces have broken their trust and that burnout is unavoidable.

So when you think about how to design an anniversary celebration, consider how you can use it to boost employee morale. “Can one of our activations for our milestone event be an act of gratitude?” McCarty suggested. “Or to drive some of those numbers up around gratitude and feeling appreciated in the workplace?”

An anniversary is an opportunity to reengage your employees and make them feel seen and heard. Whether that means involving them in storytelling initiatives or dedicating an exhibit to honor their contributions over the years, putting the spotlight on your workforce is a great way to increase motivation and inspiration.

Takeaway #5: Your Company’s Anniversary Is a Springboard for the Next 100 Years

Anniversaries and milestones are about more than celebrating your company’s past and present achievements and challenges. They’re a way to communicate where your company is going and how it will get there—and an invitation for your stakeholders to come along for the ride.

Mitchell Kaneff, CEO of family-owned folding carton giant Arkay, thought of the company’s centennial anniversary as more than a celebration. “I like to call it landing on the moon,” he said. “We arrived on the moon, stuck in our flag and said, ‘Here’s a milestone.’”

But they didn’t not stop there. “[Any milestone is] a reflection point,” Kaneff said. “It’s a way to do a wonderful marketing campaign showing the strength of an organization.”

Communicating your organization’s resilience and sharing where it’s going next sends a strong message to your stakeholders: Here’s what we’ve done, and here’s where we’re going. Be part of it.

That’s a Wrap on This Year’s Anniversary Marketing Summit

We want to thank our panelists and digital participants for making this year’s event such a success. Keep an eye out for an updated program and format for The Anniversary Marketing Summit next year—with just as many valuable insights into how best to prepare for and celebrate your company’s anniversary.

Don’t want to wait until next year to get the anniversary ball rolling? Give us a shout.

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