Creating Your Corporate History: 7 Proven Tips

Author/publisher Marian Calabro with PARC's Bruce Steadman and Dennis Doyle

To celebrate’s own 15-year anniversary, we complete this list of 15 lessons learned from working with dozens of family-owned firms, small businesses, nonprofits, and Fortune 500s. (Read lessons 1-7 at ). As always, our top piece of planning advice is to allow time. Any history-capturing endeavor is inevitably a complex process with numerous moving parts and review/approval stages–even something so seemingly easy as an About Us page update.

  1. Short is better than not. Bel Fuse wanted its story told “short and sweet.” We chronicled 68 years of this electronics pioneer (NASDAQ: BELFB) with a short narrative, dozens of photos, and a fun scrapbook of Bel associates in pictures and quotes. Plus timelines of events, acquisitions, firsts and innovations, and current and former officers and directors. All in 28 pages!
  2. Think outside the book. NACHA—The Electronic Payments Association (the folks who invented Direct Deposit) wanted everything but a book for its 40th year. Solution: themes and consistent messaging for presentations and conferences, a web timeline, and a video—all based on 50 hours of oral history interviews with NACHA employees, retirees, members, and other ACH innovators nationwide.

    NACHA built a robust, multifaceted 40th anniversary campaign around this theme, developed with

  3. Streamline the process. Attorneys in a national law firm have no time to waste. So we scheduled 20-minute slots to videorecord Jackson Walker partners, one after another, describing their key cases. Those clips became the foundation of JW’s 125th anniversary website.
  4. Take it to the tube. YouTube, of course. But think bigger. The Pep Boys rode its colorful story all the way to The History Channel.

    Historian Marian Calabro of filming The History Channel program on The Pep Boys

  5. Include practical advice. Knowing that its history would be widely read by other base closure communities, PARC (Plattsburgh Airbase Redevelopment Corporation) included a straight-talking “11 Habits of Successful Base Closures” list.
  6. Honor your acquisitions. Too often, mergers erase every trace of the acquired party. But when Salem Five Bank folds a bank into its family and brand, they preserve that institution’s artifacts and story. It’s the right thing to do. It also helps with customer retention.

    History is preserved for each Salem Five acquisition

  7. Oldest first. Interview your most elderly folks right away. This is not to be maudlin, just realistic. We still get calls like this: “Our CEO has been asked to deliver a eulogy for our late executive Ms. Y. Thank goodness you interviewed her when you did. Can you resend us that oral history transcript?”
  8. Just do it. We got another inquiry this week that began: “We’ve been talking for six years about finally getting our history on paper . . . .” Hmm. It’s not going to write itself. And your in-house folks, talented as they are, don’t have the time to research, write, and design it. Outsourcing to an experienced firm is the solution. Make this the year that you seize the day.