Some of us believe we need to do a corporate history. Others see it as nice, but not necessary. What's the value?
Documenting history is a little like having children — if you did it strictly for the bottom line, you'd be doing it for the wrong reason. Nonetheless, company histories and corporate storytelling do provide tangible value.
Corporate histories help you do all these things:
- Tell your story (people forget facts and figures, but they remember stories)
- Unearth good visuals to use on your website and in social media
- Preserve and enhance corporate culture
- Expand knowledge
- Reinforce core values
- Set your organization apart from competitors
- Motivate employees
- Foster loyalty
- Identify your company as a good corporate citizen
- Let you brag a little
- Celebrate a company anniversary
- Honor retiring executives or board members
Corporate histories can be particularly useful during tough economic times. Customers want assurance that your organization has a strong track record and will be there for them. Employees want that assurance, too. If your firm has lasted a respectable amount of time, no doubt you have survived downturns and emerged stronger. The trick is to tap into that institutional knowledge and share it
A good history leaves a record of how you succeeded and what mattered to you — a record that may not exist otherwise.
Discuss the project. Think through why you want to do a corporate history, when you need it, and who your audiences will be. This will help determine format and scope.
A good first step may be to add a special history section to your website or to enhance what's already there. It might include a brief overview, some photos, perhaps a timeline. This helps organize your material and gets the history juices flowing.
To get the most mileage from a written or visual corporate history, most companies link them to a major anniversary or a change in leadership. A corporate history project can also help launch a corporate citizenship initiative, fund-raising drive, new product rollout, or a financial turnaround. Although it can be chaotic, a period of growth and change is also a great time for a corporate history — it can help you spread your corporate culture as new people come on board.
But don't leash yourself to a particular event. For some businesses, especially those with aging founders, time may be of the essence.
No. While the printed word still says "history" better than any other medium, the type of media that will work best for your project depends on your goals, budget, and capabilities. If you do decide on a print piece, you may choose a full-fledged book or more of an illustrated booklet.
Web timelines, videos, podcasts, and other formats can serve as centerpieces of a public relations and advertising campaign. Other good possibilities include historical trade exhibits and lobby displays.
Possibly — and if you choose to pursue that path, CorporateHistory.net might be able to help.
However, if you pursue a standard publishing path, you will have no control over whether a trade publisher wants your history or when it will be published. Generally it makes the most sense for businesses to commission a privately printed work.
What can I say to people within our company who aren’t sold on the idea of a corporate history project?
Some people are uncomfortable with the word "history." Try substituting the word "knowledge" or "reputation" instead. Or try talking about your company’s history as a way to measure your achievements—something especially difficult during our information age, when so much of our work isn’t tangible.
First the client and publisher decide on the project's direction and core messages. Then research begins. While each organization's source materials are different, they usually break down into these categories:
- Oral: videos, audios of speeches, newly done interviews with people whose histories are intertwined with that of the company.
- Written: archival material, previous histories, annual reports, company newsletters, past promotional campaigns, executive speeches — plus the ubiquitous "stuff" waiting to be unearthed in boxes and files that no one has touched in years.
- Visual: photos, ads, memorabilia
Your project may also call for research at historical societies, libraries, and trade organizations. Family businesses may want to add a genealogical aspect.
Yes. Please read Marian Calabro's article, "Profiting from the Past: Company Histories for Family Businesses," on FamilyBusinessStrategies.com.
If history could be organized and produced overnight, it wouldn't be history. But if you plan well at the start, the project usually moves along smoothly and faster than you may think. There are two things to keep in mind:
- Working well in advance of your desired end date will save time and money.
- Arriving at an approved outline, then sticking to it, will likewise expedite the process.