Over the years, HAI has seen an increase in the interest of high-profile companies to create and/or develop corporate collections. The Levi Strauss Visitor Center, built to commemorate the company’s 150th anniversary, displays a pair of jeans from 1890 and features four decades of television ads. Visitors to the World of Coca-Cola will find an original 19th century soda fountain and a locked vault holding the secret Coke formula. These successful corporations recognize that documenting the history of their organization and its achievements not only preserves their industrial and commercial legacy, but serves as a valuable knowledge base for future innovation.
Corporate collections are not exclusive to large consumer products companies; they are as varied and diverse in their holdings as the companies maintaining them. Typically, we find that the most effective collections are aligned with their company’s goals, and are consistently being preserved and made accessible to staff and external audiences.
Should you choose to develop a corporate collection, you are making a commitment to invest in the long-term care of your organization’s heritage. While this may seem a daunting task, HAI recommends that you start by understanding your objectives, assessing your existing collections or establishing collecting criteria, and finally, developing a collections plan. A collections plan should involve a storage strategy, inventorying and cataloging your documents and collections, and, where appropriate, preparing your collection for preservation and future use.
Why should we collect?
Understanding the strategic objectives for your collection is a critical first step for companies both large and small. What would you like to accomplish by developing a corporate collection? Corporate collections can serve multiple functions:
Reinforce your brand image: Many firms may wish to establish a permanent or temporary exhibit to display past achievements and milestones to potential clients and investors. Collections of fine art or memorabilia can also provide a tangible sense of a company’s inherent values and identity. Displaying your collection for stakeholders, or even consumers, is an effective way to instill confidence in your brand. How you care for and display these objects can also serve to inspire and thank your staff by preserving their efforts and showcasing their achievements.
Preserve your intellectual property: On a pragmatic level, cataloging and organizing your collections can help facilitate their use as a reference tool. By gathering together and arranging your products from prototype to final product stage, you can study your progression as a company and better evaluate your next steps. For example, Converse showcases the evolution of athletic footwear developed in their state-of-the-art design lab using an online photo archive of styles produced since the early 1900s. Cataloging your collection for research establishes your investment in making your history accessible and usable.
What should we collect?
Once you have your collection objectives in place, begin to think about potential collecting themes and the types of documents and objects you wish to include. It is likely you have accumulated items over time, but what objects illustrate your organization’s brand, or document product development? Be careful not to overlook such items as tools, models, and marketing materials. Commemorative events and anniversaries are a perfect occasion to develop and promote your corporate collection. Contact your staff, clients, and stakeholders to help identify suitable additions to your corporate collection.
How should we collect?
The next steps involve putting your collections plan into action. It’s important to create an inventory of materials you have and where they are located. You will also want to ensure that your irreplaceable collection is properly stored and secure. Be sure to consider donating duplicates or unrelated items to a relevant organization—such as a museum or historical society. If you’re missing an item from your collection that could help tell your company’s story, seek out donations from current and former employees or investors. With a strong foundation, your objectives in place, and a well-considered and documented collection, you’ll be in a better position to share your corporate story.
During any part of this process, you may become overwhelmed by the range and volume of material. HAI’s collections managers can help to identify and assess your collection. We have assisted a number of museums and private institutions with object rehousing, research, documentation, and inventory of collections materials. Our team also specializes in database administration and standardization, and in developing standard operating procedures. HAI can also provide exhibit, audiovisual, and interactive content development services. By discovering, documenting, and exhibiting your corporate collection, we can help your company preserve its past and promote its legacy.
Originally published in 2013.