Any team planning an organization’s anniversary often faces a barrage of questions, such as:

These questions don’t have easy answers. But one of the most challenging questions to answer concerns the degree of involvement of local, regional or country offices. It’s a tough decision, especially for global organizations with acquired entities, different brands, and various operating companies or business lines. The complexity of an organization must be considered in order to make the most of a milestone. Too much control centrally, and one risks a lack of engagement at the field level. Pass along too much control, and one risks a disparate hodgepodge of activities that are unlikely to fulfill enterprise-wide goals for the anniversary. So, how can an anniversary planning team decide?

The Benefits of Central Control

This is a photograph of a football field. The NFL logo is painted on the field.
Let’s start by examining some of the benefits of keeping the majority of decisions and actions at a head office.

1. Clear chain of command

Like any enterprise-wide initiative, an anniversary should have an impact on a wide audience that includes both internal and external stakeholders. Running the program centrally allows for a clear chain of command, often involving members of marketing and communications teams, with responsibility ultimately resting with the C-suite or founder/owner.

2. Focused vision

The head office often faces different challenges than the local offices. For an enterprise-wide program like an anniversary, it’s critical to have a unified vision for messaging and goals. Local offices may have different priorities; a central vision can keep anniversary programs on track.

3. Reduced costs

For some aspects of an anniversary program or campaign, it just makes sense to invest centrally. Spreading out the costs of paid media, branded merchandise, major events, or archives creation and management to local offices may prove to be more expensive.

4. Speed of implementation

Organization-wide programs like anniversary campaigns take a while to gestate, but our experience is that once implementation is underway, centrally led anniversaries happen more quickly than those where local offices dictate the campaign. This is due in part to the inherent inefficiency of marketing and communication initiatives done locally. More time is spent on consultation, cross-referencing and managing matrix reporting (plus meetings, more meetings, and even more meetings) than on actual execution of the program. With a centrally led approach, when the CEO says jump, people hop.

5. Improved quality

A centrally driven anniversary campaign invariably involves more quality control. Brand standards, legal issues, authenticity of heritage assets or insights, management of archival assets—all are usually better managed with fewer sets of eyes than if they are delegated to local entities.

6. Measurement

Increasingly, significant enterprise initiatives require quantitative measurement. A centrally planned and implemented anniversary can more effectively address goals and measures for success and handle the analysis and reporting of those metrics.

A good example of cohesive central planning is the recently completed 100th anniversary of the NFL. It involved juggling many resources: NFL staff, NFL Films, the NFL Network, four broadcast partners, 135 licenses, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, 32 national sponsors and 32 teams. With stated goals of increasing engagement at the national and club level and having a tangible impact on communities across the country, it was nothing short of a miracle that the NFL was able to mobilize all of these disparate parts to pull off a powerful and effective anniversary program. Running a strong, centrally driven program, but with some latitude for franchise input and augmentation, helped make things happen.

Another example is when the Special Olympics celebrated its 50th anniversary. The organization mobilized its worldwide organization in unison. Kicking off with anniversary events at Chicago’s Soldier Field—the location of the first games back in 1968—the organization maintained a single strategic vision to raise awareness that was implemented across seven regions and 78 individual programs. The results were staggering, with more than 2,800 media stories worldwide that earned 3.25 billion media impressions.

Drawbacks to Central Control

While there are compelling reasons to have an anniversary campaign that is controlled centrally, there are also a few drawbacks.

1. Bureaucracy

Hypothetically, central control provides many of the benefits cited above, but in practical terms, it depends on the organization. Organizations with extensive bureaucracy may lose some of the time and cost savings.

2. Less impact

Local and cultural nuances can enhance many aspects of an anniversary program. Centrally driven programs can incorporate such nuances, but they’re often left out, lessening the impact of the program for each office.

3. Morale may suffer

The classic headquarters vs. field point of view can come into full display with an anniversary. Spoon-feeding local offices with materials that are too headquarters-centric may lead to lack of use and support. It may also foment past antagonisms based on the notion that headquarters lacks understanding of what is going on further afield.

“Glocal” Control

This is a photograph from Sherwin-Williams 150th anniversary celebration. The camera is focused on the audience in the stadium and attendees are divided into different sections with different colored lights cast onto them.

While “glocal” is a clumsy blended word, it works in the context of best practices for managing a company anniversary. Many aspects of an anniversary are best done centrally, but others should be passed along to local offices for their input, interpretation and ownership. Anniversary planning teams need to decide objectively what will be centrally controlled and what will be managed by regions and local offices by asking:

  1. Can we do it more efficiently centrally?
  2. Does the program rely on local knowledge or insights that headquarters doesn’t have?
  3. What is our bandwidth for implementation, both centrally and locally?

One model that we’ve seen work effectively splits responsibilities as follows:

Central control

  • Anniversary planning and budgeting
  • Theme and branding development
  • Messaging and narrative development
  • Major event coordination
  • Organization-wide internal communications
  • CSR links to anniversary program
  • Archives creation and management
  • Procurement of “mass” items or services—media, premiums, etc.

Local control

  • Tactics requiring local input or flavor, internal or external
  • Local stories that support central narratives
  • Local PR and publicity
  • Local community relations

One of the more efficient ways to handle local control is by creating a core group of “anniversary ambassadors,” or coordinators who are based in the field and report back to headquarters. We’ve found that building off the successes and challenges from previous enterprise-wide initiatives—for example, rebranding—can be really effective.

If a structure isn’t already in place for ambassadors, the people responsible for the local implementation of communications, marketing activations and events are the people you want at the table. Provide them with a centrally developed anniversary “kit” with a variety of assets and tools. This type of kit provides a foundation for local implementation as well as ideas and inspiration for areas where the local office can put its own twist on the program.

ISACA, a global tech association that focuses on cybersecurity and systems auditing, used this blend of central and local control for its 50th anniversary campaign. While ISACA’s headquarters coordinated a major global event and oversaw content creation, its leaders realized that with more than 135,000 members and 220 chapters worldwide, it would be all but impossible to implement the anniversary from the top down. As a result, the organization decided to create toolkits that would provide a framework for chapter leaders to use as they saw fit.

A similar approach was taken by Sherwin-Williams on its 150th anniversary. Among other initiatives, the company commissioned a centralized and digitized content bank to inform anniversary tactics and also digitized archival materials sourced from each of the regions. In addition, the company hosted a 12,000-person sales meeting in Orlando with a focus on the anniversary, with similar events taking place throughout its global footprint. In each region, anniversary ambassadors promoted the anniversary using the materials provided by Sherwin-Williams’ central anniversary team.

Finally, global technology manufacturer Intel celebrated its golden anniversary with an inspirational and fun ceremony at the company’s headquarters in Santa Clara, California, streaming the event to 161 ceremony watch parties hosted by senior leaders at over 132 sites worldwide. Technology allows this form of participation to occur in a way that is far more accessible, and reliable, than it was a decade ago.

Start with the Future and Work Back™

This is a photograph from one of the planning sessions for Sherwin-Williams 150th anniversary celebration. Someone is writing down the different target audiences they will communicate to throughout the year.

Regardless of how you split responsibilities and activities, it’s critical that all stakeholders are united in what the anniversary program stands for: its core message and meaning, and how it paints a pathway to future success. Our philosophy, Start with the Future and Work Back,™ neatly sums up this latter notion. Keep it in mind as you plan your corporate anniversary. It will make the task much clearer for everyone involved, and will pave the road to certain success.

If you’re interested in learning, more, check out our annual event, The Anniversary Marketing Summit, in Chicago on April 21. This year’s list of speakers represents some of the biggest names in B2B and B2C that have recently finished planning and celebrating anniversaries. Insights from the National Football League, Deloitte, Sesame Workshop and KitchenAid will set up your organization for success in its anniversary year.

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