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Planning an Anniversary During a Crisis

April 30, 2020 • Jason Dressel

Today, uncertainty is omnipresent. Businesses’ circumstances vary widely: Some cannot get enough product to meet demand or enough workers to satisfy operational needs; others face unexpected revenue dips, quarterly earnings misses, and changes in leadership or even ownership. These variables make it challenging to plan for the future.

How, then, should companies with anniversaries approaching plan for the milestone? Under normal conditions, we suggest at least 18 to 24 months of planning, but companies might not have the luxury of time right now. One thing is certain: The date of your company’s anniversary. Use this date as a line in the sand and begin to craft your company’s anniversary messaging. By the time that date rolls around, you might end up with more resources at your disposal than you thought you would have. Here are some ideas to get started.

Build your framework, but stay flexible.

Hand Drawing Logos

What’s the one thing that nearly every executive and manager will tell you after leading an anniversary for a large organization? Plan early. It’s advice that presenters share every year at The Anniversary Marketing Summit. Obviously, not everything can be planned right now, as social distancing affects our decisions and direction. But there are still ways to make progress. Build a framework that includes goals, measures for success, messaging strategy and priority audiences. Some plans may need to wait, but a lot of the strategy can be created now. 

Invest in research and content development early.

Huntington Website

No matter what your company does for its anniversary, chances are you’re going to need content. Books, films, website, exhibits, media campaigns and events require a lot of content. If the pandemic continues to require physical distancing or affects the anniversary budget, chances are your content will be even more important as your anniversary programming ends up largely digital. With a strategy in place, you can begin creating content with the confidence that you will have a need for it.

Be ultra-sensitive to the environment of your constituencies.

The pandemic is having an impact on nearly all of us, but our experiences are varying widely. Your business may be growing, but you may have customers and partners who are fighting to survive. Anything that feels over the top or too celebratory is inappropriate. At times like these, we often say that commemoration should take precedent over celebration.

Strike a balance between too much and too little.

Pictured: Boston Scientific's trade show exhibit celebrating it's 25th business anniversary. Its anniversary showcases the company's past and celebrates moving forward.

Black-tie galas and lavish gifts might be wholly inappropriate because of their cost and/or the message they send. On the other hand, selling the opportunity short is no good, either. If your company turns 50 or 100 and does not have a meaningful moment of reflection and inspiration for the future, what message does that send?

Assume physical distancing may be needed.

Sherwin-Williams Event

Many anniversaries are planned around big events such as an annual meeting or industry conference. Have a Plan B ready if the payoff of your plan is dependent on an event or another activation that involves a lot of people.

Lean in: Embrace the history of this moment.

Your organization is living through one of the most significant moments in its history. People’s actions today become the stories of how your company embodies its purpose and values. Framing the organization in the context of the people and events of the past will create a strong emotional connection.

Stay fluid, emphasize virtual communications, keep on top of messaging, and continue to push forward as best you can. You’re probably already doing these things. Apply the same thinking to your anniversary planning. Your milestone is an opportunity to mark a significant moment and bring some positivity to these turbulent times.

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