Since 2017, we have brought industry leaders together at The Anniversary Marketing Summit to discuss strategy and planning for a company anniversary milestone. History Factory’s CEO Jason Dressel shares his thoughts on how to achieve a successful anniversary campaign, and the challenges that lie ahead:

Over the past two decades, I’ve helped countless clients plan and implement campaigns for their company anniversaries and business milestones. And based on what I’ve learned in this highly specialized niche, I understand it’s a once-in-a-generation task that’s a challenge for even the most seasoned communicators and marketers. Not all of us have the luxury of launching our campaign with a Super Bowl ad, like the NFL did. Regardless, the NFL has some valuable tips that it will share at this year’s event. In the meantime, here are five things anyone planning their brand’s anniversary needs to know.

Align with your organizational objectives.

This is an image of John Morikis (CEO) taking a selfie with a photo of Henry Sherwin, the founder of Sherwin-Williams. Moments like these show pride and hard work in a company's milestone.

This may sound obvious. However, we repeatedly find that smart and sophisticated communicators and marketers who work for some of the most admired companies and brands in the world ditch basic best practices when it comes to anniversaries. They tend to get very tactical very quickly.

The best anniversaries help propel existing efforts to drive business goals, such as increasing employee retention, driving sales, deepening intermediary and supplier relationships, changing a company culture, and setting a direction for the future. The most compelling company anniversaries show not only where the company has come from, but also where it’s going.

Start early.

Starting early doesn’t mean the month or quarter before the milestone year. Planning a successful anniversary campaign typically requires a minimum of 18 months, and ideally two to three years. Sure, it can be done much faster, but there’s exponentially more stress, and the tactical options and opportunities are diminished when it’s pulled together within a year or less. As Kate Nason of Intel said at the 2019 Anniversary Marketing Summit: “The biggest challenge we had was the short time frame that we had to execute.”

Age doesn’t matter. Content does.

One of the most common missteps is focusing on the year as a central message. The vast majority of your target audiences don’t care that you’ve turned 75 or 100 or 350. It’s what you did to get to where you are today that matters. Stories drawn from the past help enunciate key messages for today and tomorrow. The NFL’s “100-Year Game” didn’t focus on the fact that the League is turning 100. It focused on the iconic players who shaped its first century. Notably, the message prominently included women because of their participation in the game today and their importance to its future.

The NFL also celebrated the fans as part of a broad-based “fantennial” that carried through to a variety of local team tactics.

Create a campaign that can be localized and scaled.

This is a photograph from one of the events held to celebrate Jack Daniel's' 150th company anniversary. The company was supported by artist Eric Church, whose tour bus is outside the venue.
Image courtesy of Jack Daniel’s

While anniversaries are planned by a team at headquarters, it’s important to engage the entire enterprise and create tools for customization and reach. Jack Daniel’s, a presenter at the 2018 Anniversary Marketing Summit, nailed this best practice with its 150th campaign. A toolkit that provided guidelines and opportunities for customization helped the brand implement the campaign in 57 markets around the world.

Get help.

This is a photograph from Sherwin-Williams's 150th anniversary celebration. This photo shows a large number of performers and employees on the stage, while a massive crowd watches in a stadium.

A successful anniversary depends on a team with clear roles and responsibilities. It’s an enterprise-wide initiative that’s going to have the attention of the highest levels of the organization and requires involvement from a lot of people in different roles and locations. Having a clear operating model—especially for global companies and brands like Intel and Jack Daniel’s—is vital to delivering the scale and results that you’re looking for.

Follow these five tips, and you’ll have a strong foundation to make the most of your milestone. Then the real work begins, because like any campaign, execution is where the rubber meets the road.

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