Apollo 11 landed on the moon July 20, 1969—40 years ago yesterday. Whether or not you were around for this historic moment in American history, you know about it. You’ve heard the famous Neil Armstrong quote, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” You’ve seen the image of the American flag stuck into the dusty surface of the moon. Given the iconic status we bestow on Apollo 11, you’d think that crewmen Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins would have taken their 40th anniversary as an opportunity to revel, at least momentarily, in their feat.

But the Associated Press reports they did just the opposite. Downplaying their mission to the point of banality—Collins “said the moon was not interesting,” and Armstrong gave it roughly 11 seconds of coverage—the men instead offered a broad review of the history and technology that placed Apollo 11 as only one small stepping stone in the path to the future of space travel. They lobbied for NASA to continue the trajectory by focusing on comets, Earth-threatening asteroids, and Mars.

The lack of nostalgia and the future-focused message may seem atypical of an anniversary celebration, but the Apollo 11 crew proved a crucial point in The History Factory’s heritage management philosophy. While anniversaries can, and often should, be opportunities to celebrate a company’s milestones, they can also be the impetus for strategic communications plans that drive a company toward its future.

Just like the crewmen, companies can use an anniversary to generate buy-in for their present and future initiatives by detailing the history that led them there. Employees, stakeholders, and consumers will take comfort in knowing that what seem to be decisions that diverge from a company’s typical path are simply next steps in a course that has always moved forward. Why re-visit the moon when you can go to Mars?

In today’s economy, spending money on anniversary celebrations is an unpopular choice for businesses. And when anniversaries are used solely as opportunities to throw parties and offer self-congratulations for 40 or 50 or 75 years well done, they may very well be a waste. But if you think of your anniversary as an opportunity to evaluate where you’ve been, what you should be doing now and in the future, and how to communicate those plans to your internal and external constituents, its value becomes much clearer. As Mission Control Houston founder and director Christopher Kraft, Jr., said, “Let’s get on with it. Let’s invest in the future.”

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