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How Companies Use the Past to Energize the Present
04 / 25 / 16 | By: Brian Martin
Milestones turn us all into company historians. When significant events transpire – a major company anniversary, a merger with another company, the retirement of a founder, or even a crisis – we tend to stop and reflect on the past. After all, the significance of the event is only truly appreciated when viewed in the context of what led up to it.
2016 marked History Associates’ 35th year in business and – like many companies do – we got together as a group and asked “How should we mark the occasion?” Motives for observing a milestone vary – you might wish to reinforce your longevity versus younger competitors, reward employees for their excellent work, or get the company story down on paper before the founding generation retires. At History Associates, we decided to use our 35th anniversary to share what we have learned about, well, using history to celebrate milestones.
To make the most of an approaching milestone, ask yourself “Why is this event noteworthy to us and our audiences (customers, employees, constituents, etc.)?” “What message(s) can we convey in connection with this milestone?” and “How can we use our history to convey these messages in authentic and engaging ways?” The answers will help provide a blueprint for how to proceed.
For example, Coopervision recently embarked on a major rebranding effort. Normally, you would think such an initiative would be focused on the future, not the past. But Coopervision understood that this new, fresh look did not just happen overnight. It took almost forty years of evolution and the hard work of a lot of longtime staffers. We helped them capture this story in a lavishly-illustrated coffee table book, using the new branding elements in the book’s design. The result was an engaging story, an eye-catching book, and a tribute to the staff that made success possible.
Farm Credit is a nationwide network of borrower-owned lending institutions that provide farm loans across the U.S. When their 100th anniversary was approaching, they wanted to salute the rich agricultural heritage of this country and their role in supporting it. The message needed to be shared among a variety of audiences, from borrower clients to lending institutions, to the general public. It also had to be accessible for a nationwide audience. They worked with their partner institutions to create an online treasure trove of historical images and events which they then used to launch a multi-channel program including a series of blog posts, Throwback Thursday tweets, and a timeline website.
For our own 30th anniversary, we wanted to celebrate our network of longstanding relationships with clients and colleagues, and our collective love for history. We organized a gala at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. – which seemed a particularly fitting venue for our celebration of history – and invited many clients, colleagues, and former employees to celebrate. Recognizing and strengthening important relationships was a good way to mark the occasion, but we also wanted to reach a broader audience with a message that outlasted the anniversary celebration. At the party we premiered a short video which we still use today in the “about” section of our website to tell potential clients who we are and what we do. Its essential message rings true even five years later.
For our 35th anniversary, we shared insights into how to use history to reinvigorate the present – ideas for your archives, tips on oral histories, and creating history timelines. Read all of our anniversary blog posts or see the top of this page to subscribe to receive automatic updates!
Are you writing your organization’s story? At History Associates, we believe that good history is something of an art—it takes creativity as well as careful study to meld a sequence of events into a dramatic story. History is also a craft, and there are a series of steps that we follow to build up the essentials of a corporate story. For more information on our process, download our short, free PDF.