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Looking Ahead: Corporate Anniversaries in 2021

December 15, 2020 • Sam Grabel

As we move into 2021, we’re reflecting on the events of the last year as they have affected all areas of our business, including exhibits, archives, and storytelling and publications. Last year we provided predictions for the future of corporate anniversaries. Given the events of 2020, we decided to revisit this conversation to provide analysis and see what 2021 might hold. We spoke with Jason Dressel, our managing director of business development and perennial host of the Anniversary Marketing Summit, and Director of Brand Marketing Paul Woolf, who has worked on anniversary campaigns for clients including Cleveland Clinic, Graybar and USAA. Here’s what we found out.

 

HF: Since we last spoke, what has changed in the corporate anniversary landscape? Does that align with what we would recommend?

Paul: Companies are continuing to celebrate anniversaries. If anything, they’re becoming even more important during this particular crisis because there are so many other things that organizations have had to curtail or stop, and because they need positive news and a rallying cry for their employees.

When times are tough, the one thing you don’t want to do if celebrating a 25th or 50th or 75th or a 100th anniversary is to skip marking that occasion. Now, how you mark it has changed dramatically because clearly you can’t have the in-person, live event with 5,000 people turning up.

I think going into 2021, companies will want to push their anniversary messages even more. It’s just how they’ll do it has fundamentally changed, or at least until COVID-19 is in significant decline and some semblance of normalcy returns.

Jason: Organizations should create messaging starting with the story of now and recognizing that this is, unto itself, one of the biggest historic moments in the company’s history. It will certainly go down as being one of the biggest moments and biggest challenges for a lot of the people in those organizations. You’d really want to start with today and then go back and reinforce the heroic commitment of how the company and its people are responding to the current moment. It is exemplary of how the organization has been able to respond to challenges and crises of the past. And it’s ideally a reflection of the enduring values of the organization.

 

HF: Speaking of messaging, have we seen any increase in requests for certain types of messaging or programming?

Paul: What we’re seeing is messaging that really plays off two core themes. One is this notion of resilience, like Jason was talking about, and that organizations are proving that they’re resilient. They’ve been resilient through this time, they’ve been resilient in their past, and they’ll continue to be resilient in the future.

The other is dialing up the implicit notion of “one company.” And what I mean by that is organizations going out of their way to make sure that they’re inclusive of as many people within their organization as possible in any anniversary communications. Even if it is an entity or an office or a location that opened only a few years ago, making sure that they are a part of whatever is being planned.

Jason:  From a tactical perspective, at a time when everyone is decentralized, the notion of “one company” is important for creating ways for everyone to engage in that process, like the global virtual video campaign that we did for S&P Global.

I think what’s also correlated to the notion of one company is the need to showcase the diversity of the organization. Because that was one of the other major storylines of this year, the embracing and realization that there needs to be so much more with respect to social injustice and how that ultimately ladders up for corporations into diversity and inclusion policies and practices.

 

What predictions do we have for corporate anniversaries in 2021?

Paul: Many organizations have used 2020 as a reawakening call, especially if their anniversary is on the horizon, to reinforce their core beliefs and their core messages. Going into 2021, we’ll see the anniversary program as a way to set out a stall for where they want to be. It’s using that anniversary as the linchpin for recognizing what you’ve done in your past and what you’re going to do going forward. And how your next 25 years or 50 years or 100 years are going to follow the same lines.

I think what’s interesting is that in 2020, the virtual option was always the plan B that many people and companies, including we at the Anniversary Marketing Summit, had to go to. Going into 2021, virtual is plan A, with maybe a move to a hybrid model in the second half of the year. It’s going to be very interesting to see how that happens, especially with multinational corporations.

Jason: When you look at the what broader implications of this environment will be over presumably the next couple of years, you’re going to have a lot of transition and re-evaluation of how people are working in the workplace. There’s going to be a lot of reassessment of real estate portfolios and workplaces.

You’re going to have presumably a lot of M&A activity because companies that are in a position to do so are going to be investing and they’re going to be looking to acquire companies. And you’re going to then have the uncertainty of how this all shakes out from an economic perspective. And how quickly the global economy recovers, which I suspect will be in fits and starts. And it will be different by region and different by sector.

 

What about any recommendations for companies celebrating anniversaries in 2021 and beyond?

 Paul: In the past, most organizations would approach an anniversary as a triumphant, confident, “this is how we’re innovative” program. This is how we are strong. These are our core values. Going into 2021, we’ll see some of that but perhaps with more emphasis on empathy and less splash—less splash, maybe because they’ve got less cash.

It’s also likely that organizations and industries and sectors that traditionally have not been heavy anniversary celebrants are going to come to the fore. And in particular I’m thinking of tech. Some of the big technology companies no longer are the young upstarts in the business. Anniversary for high-tech has always been a little bit of a weird thing. They don’t really want to focus on the past that much when all of their business and everything that they’re about is focused on the future. But they can use an anniversary to spread a message about innovation that harkens back to the nostalgia of, for example, a Steve Jobs-type founder or the innovations that they’ve developed over the years that have resulted in their rapid growth.

Jason: I would double down on the emphasis on content. Because I think regardless of what organizations are going to do, they’re going to need and want storytelling, and they’re going to need new stories that reflect what people have gone through over the last year or two. They’re going to want stories that are broader and more diverse and inclusive. They’re going to have to stay agile.

Additionally, rather than really focusing on all these new things they should do, they should be examining what the organization has done effectively over the last year in this environment. What’s worked? And what hasn’t worked? And whatever has worked, we’ll do more of that for the anniversary.

Somewhat paradoxically, an anniversary is also a great time to test new tactics. At a time when the organization is transitioning and evaluating how it might be working together in different formats and using different technologies to engage with each other, there’s the idea to launch new initiatives under the umbrella of an anniversary program. It offers some camouflage for trying new things. If it’s successful, then it might be something that gets added to your toolkit moving forward. If it’s less successful, you can write it off as simply trying something new for the anniversary.

For more information on corporate anniversaries, check out our comprehensive “Guide to Celebrating Your Company Anniversary.” If you have an anniversary coming up in the next 1 to 2 years, don’t forget about our Fast Anniversary plan.

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