August 6, 2020 • Scott McMurray (History Factory) and Joseph Harrison (Deloitte)
One common theme in the corporate world’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been to tap into an organization’s heritage and longevity to reassure external stakeholders as well as employees. Televised and online ads shared messages with common phrases such as “We’ve been through crises before, and we’ll get through this one as well by tapping our inner strengths.” And though, as some commentary suggests, these brand messages blurred together, their common theme reflects a universal human capacity for hope.
In this article we discuss the value of leveraging your company heritage during times of crisis and, importantly, the value of having in place a methodology and framework to enable you to access and share your unique story in such unexpected situations.
Having the foresight to establish processes that ensure heritage materials and stories are immediately accessible and shareable allows for a crisis response that is timely and feels authentic to both external and internal stakeholders—one that speaks to the head as well as the heart. At the same time, the existing heritage infrastructure enables the efficient capturing of stories conveying the impact of the current crisis, and importantly, the response and reaction of the company, for future use.
We are sharing with you a framework and set of best practices for how to ensure your business can maximize the return on your inherent brand story—for this crisis and those that will inevitably follow. Leveraging your heritage is a critical business imperative. Intangible assets form the bulk of the value of the S&P500. Capturing your brand legacy and heritage are a major component of that value.
Employing your heritage serves multiple communication goals. Crafting compelling crisis communications that go beyond the expected and genuinely move the audience is an immediate benefit of leveraging your heritage. Building trust and confidence among employees and smoothing transitions to the “next normal” is another. Longer term, capturing and leveraging your heritage can help distill strategic insights and knowledge, shape executive leader legacies, and help authenticate your purpose and core values.
Deloitte is the largest professional services organization in the world and the world’s most valuable commercial services brand, according to Brand Finance. With more than 300,000 professionals worldwide, Deloitte helps clients realize their ambitions, aims to make a positive difference in society, and strives to maximize the success of its people. This drive to make an impact that matters has guided its journey for 175 years and runs deep throughout the organization.
Deloitte is also the oldest name in the professional services industry, having been founded in London in 1845 by William Welch Deloitte. To prepare for the global celebration of its 175th anniversary this year, Deloitte engaged with History Factory to help the organization gather and curate archival materials and conduct dozens of interviews with Deloitte leaders to capture its heritage. Last year they began introducing the anniversary themes, laying the groundwork for multiple events, various communications, and other planned activities to celebrate 175 years of service in 2020.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As the global spread of the virus became apparent in the early weeks of 2020, Deloitte had a choice to make—if, when, and how to mark its 175th anniversary. Large gatherings of professionals were clearly out of the question, as was face-to-face socializing of any kind.
One option was to simply move on. No one wants to appear celebratory when people around the world are suffering. Deloitte chose a different path.
Deloitte pivoted to demonstrate leadership and stability during the crisis and leveraged its accumulated heritage assets to highlight the organization’s culture of resilience. Deloitte continues to use that platform to tell a unique story that conveys the strength and stability of this 175-year-old organization.
Deloitte has been able to draw upon its heritage to help reinforce an authentic path forward because it remains true to its values and purpose. Examples from its history perfectly illustrated the resilience of the organization and how one can learn from and leverage the past to support the present. One example comes from World War II. When other companies were opting to remain isolated and looking to ride out the crisis by clinging to the status quo, Deloitte predecessor firm Touche, Niven & Co., published the following in its 1940 Special Bulletin:
“The world will not return to the old order of things … We cannot remain unaffected. We should keep ourselves ready to carry on by means of the quality of our work … In the meantime, it behooves us to stand by the old-fashioned virtues.”
The power of curating heritage assets is apparent in one of the archival “golden nuggets” unearthed in the process of capturing Deloitte’s 175 years of heritage. A History Factory researcher conducting online research into Deloitte’s history came across an auction house reference to a copy of the first partnership agreement signed by founder William Welch Deloitte in 1857. With some back and forth the papers were determined to still be available and were quickly acquired, placing this piece of important history back in Deloitte’s possession.
The partnership agreement represented the founder’s first effort to ensure the continuation of the leading practice he established in London. Deloitte leadership grasped the significance of the document as a unique representation of the organization’s resilience over time and around the world. It became a centerpiece of Deloitte’s celebration of its 175th anniversary and its 2019 World Meeting in Singapore.
Deloitte defines the key phases in any crisis using three terms—Respond, Recover, and Thrive. Respond is the initial phase in which leadership and employees address the present situation, focusing on stability and continuity. Recover is the learning phase in which a company applies the lessons of the crisis, tests pre-crisis assumptions and ways of doing things and emerges stronger than before. Thrive marks an accelerating phase during which the company both prepares for and shapes the “new normal.”
During a crisis, leveraging your heritage is imperative. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Deloitte worked with History Factory to marry its established heritage methodology—Capture, Curate, Communicate, Codify—in support of the three-phased crisis framework. Different aspects of the heritage methodology are given greater weight within each of the Respond, Recover and Thrive phases of a crisis. For example, Capture and Curate play a greater role in the early Respond and Recover phases than in the final, Thrive phase, which builds upon the foundation established in the earlier two phases. Codify comes into play mostly in the Recover and Thrive phases as the organization pulls together its heritage to support key strategic objectives. Communicate, on the other hand, plays a leading role in every step of the process.
Different companies and organizations may be in different phases of the crisis, depending on the specific industry and geography. At the same time, there often is no clear break point between one phase and the next. Part of an organization, for instance, may still be responding to the crisis, while another, due to its location or product mix, may already be well into the recovery phase. Transitioning from Recover to Thrive will also be something of a sliding scale for many organizations. Even if leadership is convinced that the organization has put the Respond phase behind it, taking the time to capture and curate your heritage as you pass through the Recover phase will be time well spent in support of current and future crisis-response efforts.
Following are the three phases of crisis response and the recommended emphasis that should be placed on leveraging heritage assets through each of the phases:
Actions in this initial crisis phase are being taken in real time, so it is important not to let perfect be the enemy of good. Begin the process. It can be smoothed out after-the-fact in preparation for the next crisis.
Establish a heritage initiative vision and plan. Define collection strategies, policies and processes. Conduct archival/historical research to identify authenticating content. Mine existing material and conduct discovery programs. Appraise, select and organize relevant stories and content, and store in accessible digital/physical repositories.
Use heritage content to convey authenticity and build trust among stakeholders. Share proof points that convey the dynamism and resilience of the organization. Effectively leverage heritage via communications to immediately build confidence during this uncertain phase. Craft and deliver content/program executive summaries for leadership. Support external public relations and advertising efforts, as well as marketing communications.
Distill experiences into insights. Ingest materials, especially those that reflect your crisis response, into a content resource platform when feasible. Confirm programming messaging and your heritage communications platform.
Communication emphasizes change and moving beyond survival, viability concerns and needs for recovery. Acknowledge the tangible and intangible costs of weathering the storm and use heritage of emerging from earlier crises to prepare for and engage new opportunities. Write and publish narratives and related heritage stories.
Capture your heritage of emerging from the crisis more resilient than ever and positioned to address new opportunities. Conduct video interviews of leaders and culture carriers. Themes of heroism, innovation, creativity, human connection and resilience align with your core purpose and values.
Document and codify experience and insights for future use. Build a sustainable digital-physical archive program. Communicate your post-crisis story to build credibility and confidence with all stakeholders. This is the playbook for tomorrow’s crisis leaders.
Takeaways—10 things you can do to better leverage your heritage during the three phases of a crisis.
No one can accurately predict the post-pandemic future. Great organizations that have learned from the past through active heritage management will be best positioned to seize opportunities in the years ahead and be prepared for the inevitable future crises.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Associate Director, Brand Identity and Operations Leader – Global Brand
Joseph oversees the most recognizable and definable components of the Deloitte global brand – specifically, all asset management and compliance activity, brand expression and protection, visual and sonic identity building, stakeholder engagement, and creative resources. Most recently, Joseph has led the efforts to mark Deloitte’s 175th Anniversary (2020) globally, illustrating how Deloitte has made an impact that matters since its founding in 1845 and has also led the work to develop Deloitte’s first ever global sonic brand.
Vice President, Editorial
Scott writes books and conducts oral history interviews for key clients of History Factory, from national oil companies in the Middle East to global consulting firms, insurance companies, cable television pioneers, money managers, biotechnology companies and nonprofit health-care systems. Scott works with clients to help shape the editorial components of their heritage projects, including book-length histories, online content for employees as well as external audiences, and material supporting milestone advertising campaigns.
History Factory is a pioneering agency dedicated to helping organizations across the globe leverage their heritage to drive brand, marketing, communications and culture initiatives. Since 1979, History Factory’s innovative archival and creative services have helped industry leaders capture and communicate the authentic stories that demonstrate their core character. These stories are brought to life through engaging experiences and campaigns that connect an organization’s past experiences with its future success.
Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (“DTTL”), its global network of member firms, and their related entities (collectively, the “Deloitte organization”). DTTL (also referred to as “Deloitte Global”) and each of its member firms and related entities are legally separate and independent entities, which cannot obligate or bind each other in respect of third parties. DTTL and each DTTL member firm and related entity is liable only for its own acts and omissions, and not those of each other. DTTL does not provide services to clients. Please see www.deloitte.com/about to learn more.
Deloitte is a leading global provider of audit and assurance, consulting, financial advisory, risk advisory, tax and related services. Our global network of member firms and related entities in more than 150 countries and territories (collectively, the “Deloitte organization”) serves four out of five Fortune Global 500® companies. Learn how Deloitte’s approximately 312,000 people make an impact that matters at www.deloitte.com.
This communication contains general information only, and none of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (“DTTL”), its global network of member firms or their related entities (collectively, the “Deloitte organization”) is, by means of this communication, rendering professional advice or services. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your finances or your business, you should consult a qualified professional adviser.
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 Punit Renjen, “The heart of resilient leadership: Responding to COVID-19,” Deloitte Insights, p. 2., 2020
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