In this month’s excerpt of CEO Bruce Weindruch’s book, Start with the Future and Work Back: A Heritage Management Manifesto, we take a look at how a facilities upgrade presents the opportunity to use authentic content to connect with and inspire your workforce.

“Some organizations are content to paper over their walls with generic and message-free corporate artwork. That’s fine. That’s their prerogative. But if all my time working in corporate heritage has taught me anything, it’s that people gravitate toward authenticity more than artifice. They want the real. And when they find it, they connect with it on both an intellectual and visceral level.

Take, for instance, our work with HarperCollins. When we were contacted by the company in 2012, the leadership team made it clear that they wanted an exhibit that spoke directly to its authors—communicating, especially, the fact that HarperCollins was committed to putting the needs and aspirations of its authors above all else in every decision it made.

Walking into a traditional publisher’s office used to feel a little bit like taking a trip to the principal’s office. Dark hallways. Dark wood. Dark offices. At times, you couldn’t help but feel you were entering some little rabbit warren, where editors disappeared into their offices, red pen in hand, scribbling tirelessly away at big stacks of anonymous manuscripts. In other words, the kind of environment where it’s easy to forget that the author is, and always has been, the most important part of the publishing process.

To counter this misconception, HarperCollins created a wide-open work space at its new headquarters in Lower Manhattan—a space positively brimming with light and transparency. On the one hand, it reminded authors that HarperCollins wasn’t stuck in the past. And yet it didn’t particularly communicate HarperCollins’ own unique history as the publisher of choice for some of the world’s greatest authors, from Charles Dickens and Mark Twain to Agatha Christie and Harper Lee.

We knew that the tone of our exhibit had to be aspirational. It had to make authors feel pride to be a part of the HarperCollins family. Fortunately, while doing our research we found a wonderful symbol of that very idea: a spiral wrought-iron staircase in one of its earliest headquarters buildings that a veritable pantheon of legendary writers had ascended over the years.

We found a magnificently telling quote that said, ‘They join us as unknowns and leave us as knowns.’

That was the central message HarperCollins wanted to communicate—namely, that authors are important to us. We nurture them. We turn unknowns into literary giants.

So we did something rather ambitious. As the centerpiece for a headquarters-wide exhibit program, we built a massive “author bookcase” to flank the new space’s dramatic two-story staircase and filled it with stories, quotes, pictures and artifacts from some of HarperCollins’ most famous authors.

Pictured: another segment of the company exhibit History Factory built for HarperCollins. This shows a staircase leading up to a second story with the books of the authors they have published.

The bookcase was mapped out intentionally. On the left, it profiled the early trials of each author—whether they were personal difficulties or their struggles getting published by other houses. And then as viewers moved along the wall, each vignette revealed how HarperCollins had supported these writers on their path toward literary immortality, ending with segments from published books and subsequent work on the right.

We started with early submissions on one side and ended with success and acclaim on the other. And the bridge between those two extremes was HarperCollins.

Pictured: another portion of the branded environment History Factory built for HarperCollins. This shows underneath the staircase and a mural is on the wall in the background.

HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray has gone on the record as saying that the exhibit not only changed the way authors perceive the company but also the way HarperCollins thinks about itself.

Now, whenever HarperCollins editors look up at our exhibit, they are reminded—day in and day out—of the fine work that their predecessors did as well as the fact that the manuscript they are currently working on may belong to the next Zora Neale Hurston or Maurice Sendak.

When writers walk into HarperCollins’ headquarters, they see the names and stories of illustrious authors on the wall and they feel as if they’ve entered the pantheon of the literary world. Everyone, whether they’re a budding author or an established one, looks up and says the same thing. ‘I want to be part of that group. I want to be on that wall.’”


To purchase Start with the Future and Work Back, click here.

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