Over the years I’ve found that many employees have no clue about their company’s history and heritage – the who, what, when, how and why that makes up an organization’s “DNA.” How else to explain the company president or the head of PR/Communications who doesn’t know when the company was founded or why?
Perhaps it’s the way history is devalued and currently taught (or not taught) in schools. Only the present is deemed of value, and if the past is taught, it often doesn’t relate to today and take us into tomorrow. As a historian and archivist, I believe that knowledge of the past is valuable to understanding and preparing for the future.
Why bother with a company’s history? There are several reasons:
- to promote a company’s anniversary – leveraging its stability and instilling consumer confidence
- to re-launch an old brand or product
- to reinforce customer loyalty
- to strengthen employee pride and engagement
- to minimize culture clash when preparing for a company merger or acquisition.
What to include in a corporate history portfolio
- The history of the company’s founding, including what was happening in the city and country where located at the time.
- What was happening and changing in selected time increments; e.g., every five years for companies founded less than 100 years ago, or every 10 years if the company is 100 years or older.
- Information about the products and/or services created.
- Any anniversaries celebrated in the past and what was done.
- Advertisements and articles about the company.
- Photographs of people and places (such as stores or office locations) connected to the company.
- Information about all heads of the company over the years.
- Memories of staff regarding the company’s major moments.
How to find & share company history
Companies know the importance of data storage and back-up in protecting and preserving their records. In the face of an increasing number of weather disasters, not to mention the threat of fire and theft, this is vital. Unfortunately, information on the company’s background is not always included with its big data and is nowhere to be found. Staff may not know where the records are that document the company’s founding, except for legal and tax records. Old files may have been discarded or lost in transition during corporate moves or relocation.
Organizations that want to engage their employees and customers through authenticity marketing, nostalgia, re-branding, or reputation marketing based on the company’s history need to:
- Select staff to become “history detectives” and find out where the records are and how to fill in the missing gaps. It’s also helpful to visit other company websites and network with those companies that have preserved and promoted their corporate or brand history.
- Mine the historical data you find about your organization and use it to create narratives, timelines, oral histories, etc., to include in employee orientation and on the company’s intranet as part of its brand story.
- Search for as many visuals as possible – photographs, ads, press clippings, promotional posters, mission statements, non-confidential internal documents, etc. – to convey information in a way that attracts attention and is eye-catching. You can also display old photographs and advertisements in your company’s reception area and offices. In my client work I find that people love to have copies of old photographs and documents in their office and work stations!Before sharing company history, I recommend you test and re-test it with staff who have little or no information about it. Their response will help you fine-tune the story’s delivery and its deliverables in orientation and other internal programs.
- Communications/PR, HR, Marketing and Sales should be involved in the process. For best results, work with a professional historian and/or archivist who has journalism and curatorial experience. Museum curators with history backgrounds are a good resource.
- Consider creating a virtual time-capsule for the website and ask employees to vote on what to include about the company and the world in which we live today. They can also share their forecasts for the future of the company.
History doesn’t have to be “musty and dusty,” so have fun with your company’s, regardless of its age! And remember that tomorrow makes today history, and what we do today affects the future.