September 25, 2020 • Paul Woolf
If you’re older than 25, do you remember your 25th birthday and what you did to celebrate? The answer for most people is probably not—25 is seen as a less momentous occasion than turning 21 (the legal drinking age in the United States) or 30, when a person enters the next phase of life as a thirtysomething. Yet for companies, 25 is a significant milestone, marking a quarter century of existence, a feat that only a minority of companies that start each year actually achieve.
At History Factory, t’s been our experience that by the time most companies hit 25—especially larger organizations— there’s a sense that some of the entrepreneurial and disruptive spirit that guided their formative years may have subsided. By 25, many companies have focused on driving more efficiency and profitability, reducing risks, and encouraging scalability. Entrepreneurial founders in some instances might have been replaced by more management-driven leadership. A 25th anniversary commemoration can bridge what many would consider the “good old days” with a new, more buttoned-up culture focused on the future.
So how should a company mark 25 revolutions around the sun? The truth is, there are many ways, but the tactics are not significantly different from other milestone anniversaries. True, delivering a company history book for a 25-year-old organization might be easier than for one turning 100, but if a book makes sense as a tactic against specific objectives, that’s true whether the company is turning 25, 100 or 500.
Here’s a list of how some organizations have marked 25 years. How might you adapt their ideas for your own organization?
Compared to long-established brands such as American Express (1850), Visa (1958) and Mastercard (1966), Discover is a young upstart in the credit card world. By its 25th anniversary in 2010, the company still saw glimmers of its upstart mentality, having introduced the cash-back concept and survived a series of lawsuits by competitors. Yet Discover needed stories to fuel its 25th. Like many other 25-year-old organizations, it was fortunate to have many of its founders still around. History Factory commenced a thorough oral history program, speaking with representatives across levels within the organization—from call centers to sales to executive leadership. From these interviews and additional archival research, our team developed a variety of stories in both written and digital formats. Based on extensive employee surveys, the program was deemed a tremendous success, with 88 percent of survey respondents feeling that the anniversary recaptured Discover’s spirit from its early days. Creating 25th-anniversary plans to engage employees vs. external stakeholders and customers is not unusual. In our experience, enhancing employee motivation and engagement is at or near the top of the list of most objectives for organizations marking 25 years in business, not least because in many cases the founders of the organization remain with the company and want to thank those who helped them reach the milestone.
The train service between the United Kingdom and Continental Europe marked its 25th anniversary in November 2019 with a wide range of initiatives. The company, which initially operated Chunnel service between London and Paris but has expanded to many other European destinations, set up a digital storybook and photo compilation that captured 25 years of service. Eurostar sought passenger stories through a social program under #Eurostar25 with a prize offer to win 1 of 25 pairs of tickets on any of its services. To recognize employees, Eurostar hosted a gala event for 1,600 staff members in London to mark 25 years in business, transforming Camden Roundhouse into a miniature Europe for the two-day event. Eurostar also used the occasion to host journalists and executives on the first plastic-free train service, reinforcing the company’s commitment to responsible environmental practices and setting the tone for future initiatives in this area. Using an anniversary to announce major new initiatives or to reinforce and highlight future-focused activity is an excellent way to garner media attention, amplifying the message through anniversary events and programs.
— KickFlipThrifts (@KickFlipThrifts) September 18, 2020
It’s hard to believe that this online marketplace has been around for 25 years, but in 2020 the company hosted an online event featuring the sellers who’ve helped it become a multibillion-dollar enterprise. Called Sellerbration, the September 25 event showcased a host of eBay executive speakers, trivia contests, features about both the past and the future, and, of course, branded 25th-anniversary merchandise. Top sellers are also featured through a a digital coupon offering 25 percent off the site’s top 25 brands. Sellers are encouraged to tag video or photos of themselves opening swag boxes with #ebay25 to gain social traction. eBay is a good example for other brands facing the challenges of promoting a company anniversary during the pandemic, pivoting from the live events that characterized past anniversaries to a virtual event with a personal touch.
As the examples above demonstrate, you have many options for marking your company’s 25th anniversary in a memorable way, even if faced with a global pandemic. One thing that all successful 25th anniversary programs have in common is a solid starting point and plan, usually developed two to three years ahead of the anniversary itself. By clearly articulating goals for the anniversary, specific objectives and metrics of success for each target audience, and other considerations in one document, organizations can lay the foundation for a plan to make a 25th company anniversary a successful celebration of the past and look to the future.
For more ideas about how to mark your corporate anniversary, check out our comprehensive Guide to Celebrating Your Company Anniversary.
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