"A company that doesn't have a history may not have a future."
The founder's words kept returning to the president during the 20th corporate anniversary festivities. When he took over four years ago, he hadn't fully understood his predecessor's zest for celebrations. Now, he couldn't fathom why some companies ignored such opportunities for an employee morale booster.
The workforce felt connected to the company as never before. The marketing campaign high-lighting the anniversary was generating remarkable buzz. The corresponding product launch had exceeded expectations. More than 30 percent of the sales reps had already reached the first level of their incentive program.
Thunderous applause greeted the president as he stepped onto the stage to make the official anniversary toast. Raising his glass with the entire workforce, he was sure all the time and effort over the past year had been worth it.
A corporate anniversary is a once-in-a- lifetime achievement that deserves recognition. Considering the average company stays in business less than seven years, those that last certainly have every reason to celebrate.
In the corporate world, age symbolizes strength and security in an unpredictable marketplace. A successful anniversary program should be as much about heralding past accomplishments as looking forward. It must communicate to employees, customers and the competition that the company has survived so far and intends to be around for many years to come.
How an organization commemorates its anniversary depends on its culture, traditions and budget. If an outdoor, companywide picnic is a popular custom, perhaps this is the best way to celebrate. Other organizations may have a preference for semi-formal or black-tie events. Or an anniversary can be the chance to do something completely different.
Aside from celebrating, it is also a significant opportunity to accomplish business goals. Such occasions offer the potential to boost employee morale, strengthen the support of stockholders and increase visibility within the community. Coupling the launch of a new product or sales promotion with a corporate milestone creates a powerful marketing strategy.
Celebrating an anniversary offers many advantages and should be among the most important projects in a company's history. This how-to guidet addresses the issues involved in a successful anniversary program.
A successful corporate anniversary program can:
FROM THE BEGINNING
Getting a good start can make the difference between truly making the most of this employee incentive opportunity and simply hoping for the best.
Planning should begin at least one year in advance. Even if the goal is only a simple picnic, allow plenty of time to handle all the minutia that makes this celebration different. After all, you can't resolve to do it differently next time because there is only one 20th anniversary program.
Management should appoint one person to direct the recognition program. Undoubtedly, the project manager will assemble a group to handle all responsibilities, but only one person should sit at the head of the table. Consider building the planning unit from a good mix of departments to promote a variety of ideas and skills.
Here is a broad outline of the numerous tasks the group needs to address in the early planning stages:
HOW MUCH DO I SPEND?
The budget for an anniversary program is as individual as the company commemorating the event. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules on how much should be spent, or where funds should be allocated.
Ideally, create a separate budget line for the entire anniversary program. Since the project will involve different elements which are usually handled by several departments, it makes sense to keep the recognition program finances autonomous.
How much is enough? The simplest scenario allots what is normally spent on company events plus an extra percentage to cover elements related specifically to the anniversary.
Money budgeted to promote the celebration should not be considered wasted. Advertising the fact your organization has prospered for 25 years while so many never make it past the five-year mark is an advantage against the competition.
Through clever partnerships an organization can defray some of the costs of its anniversary program. For instance, it can find another company celebrating a significant milestone in the same year and join marketing forces.
A publishing firm was able to save money with its choice of venue. Most of its employees worked in the new downtown headquarters, but it still had operations in the building where it had existed for nearly 20 years. Located in a quiet suburb next to a park, the grounds turned out to be perfect for a companywide picnic. The event possessed a strong nostalgic feel and helped employees realize just how far the company had come.
GETTING THE WORD OUT
Depending on your company's business goals for the anniversary, advertising the milestone can be an important part of the overall recognition program. Even if you're only planning a small celebration, it is worth the time and effort to promote.
Here are a few public relations and advertising ideas, both for the miniscule budget and those with deeper pockets:
One hotel company took this strategy a step further. It planned to unveil a series of brand enhancement initiatives as well as new products in conjunction with its anniversary.
During its celebration week, the company hosted ten press breakfasts in its largest markets plus a web conference. Also, its vast sales force visited top accounts and personally communicated the organization's new policies and products.
Using the personal touch to get in front of media and important clients generated much more interest in its anniversary than simply distributing a press release.
THE GUEST LIST
The decision as to who will attend depends on the budget and the overall tone of the celebration.
For employee-only events, where the sole outsiders are family members, consider inviting retired employees. This helps connect the company's past with its future. Also, current employees will notice the thoughtful gesture.
There are advantages to including sales representatives, distributors, jobbers and others in the chain. Their attendance may decrease the intimacy of the event, but it will reinforce the company's varied connections.
Some organizations plan two celebrations. One is exclusively for employees and their families while the other hosts a melting pot of interested parties. The latter is more of a public relations opportunity where department heads mingle with top customers, valued business associates, major stockholders, media, etc.
Community leaders should be included whenever possible. If the company has been based in one location for several decades, hopefully it has forged close ties to the neighborhood. If it relocated within the past few years, an anniversary celebration is the perfect opportunity to start building or to strengthen connections.
CHOOSING A CORPORATE GIFT INCENTIVE
A corporate incentive gift serves as a visible reminder to the recipient that he is a valued part of the company's success. Anniversary business gifts can be tricky since they must cross gender, ethnic and age differences.
Some companies distribute the same employee recognition gift to all employees. Others prefer to use a tier system based on tenure. One electronics firm offered employees with 10 years of service an additional wrist watch for a spouse or significant other.
If possible, include valued customers on your gift list. For instance, during its anniversary party, a vehicle manufacturer presented its largest customer with keys to the very first in a new line of trucks. A food manufacturer treated one of its contractors to lunch-not just the sales rep or management, but the entire company to celebrate it's 35th corporate anniversary.
With employee-only events, make the distribution of the gifts as much fun as the party itself. For example, one organization arranged for the wait staff to deliver the beautifully wrapped boxes on dishes, as if they were desserts; this was for its 45th corporate anniversary.
If gifts are delivered outside of the official party, ensure it still feels like a celebration. Make it part of a companywide coffee break, for instance. Or at least arrange for supervisors to distribute them to their people.
An anniversary is a wonderful opportunity to give something to the community. To commemorate its 40th corporate anniversary, a company chose to co-sponsor a series of local public events. The largest was a popular jazz festival held every summer.
Due to the company's financial participation, the festival was able to attract one of the top jazz musicians in the country. His presence drew more visitors than ever before and helped the local economy when it needed a boost.
A corporate recognition gift doesn't require lots of zeroes. A company could donate some of its equipment or services. For instance, to celebrate its 30th corporate anniversary a public relations firm offered free lessons to 30 nonprofit directors on how to communicate their foundations' messages at social functions.
Another organization commemorated its 20th anniversary with a pledge of 20 hours of volunteer work from each of its employees. One company celebrated its 30th anniversary by donating 30 pounds of food to a food bank for every person who attended its party.
This is where good relations with the community helps an organization know what is most needed and what will be best received.
CELEBRATING WITH EMPLOYEES
An effective corporate anniversary recognition program should generate excitement for weeks leading up to the official event. Instead of just a single party, the anniversary becomes a collection of activities and experiences culminating in a gala affair.
For instance, one organization kicked off its overall program 75 days prior to the company's 75th corporate anniversary. Another set up a large outdoor countdown clock at the company headquarters. Employees saw it each day as they arrived to work, plus it was visible from the busy highway. The company also extended this countdown idea to its satellite offices.
A large conglomerate helped its employees connect with the organization's humble beginnings with a Fact-A-Day program. Interesting historical tidbits were emailed everyday and really had people talking about the company. This approach built great momentum for the actual celebration and caught the attention of a national magazine.
All corporate incentive programs should employ an anniversary theme, whether for internal employees or outside representatives. Perhaps introduce a new award specifically honoring the corporate milestone.
As for the celebration itself... make sure it is a true celebration. No one enjoys four hours of presentations. This is a party not a corporate meeting. If the anniversary is combined with Company Day, don't take the joy out of the occasion by making if feel like a regular day at the office.
One of the positives of anniversary picnics is entire families attend. The opportunity to connect with the personal side of your employees can't be underestimated.
On the other hand, sit-down affairs reinforce the fact this is a remarkable achievement worthy of a more elegant tone. Ultimately, budget and corporate image will determine where the celebration lands on the party spectrum.
A pharmaceutical company blended history with entertainment in a series of live performances depicting the organization through its 50 years. The skits artfully paid tribute to the company's accomplishments while giving everyone a good laugh.
An accessories manufacturer chose to celebrate its 25th corporate anniversary over an entire week. The program kicked off with employees receiving a special t-shirt as well as a trivia questionnaire. Those who provided all the correct answers became eligible for three weekend getaway drawings.
Job appreciation day required managers and supervisors to switch jobs with people in their area. One unexpected result of the job swapping: Dozens of employees soon received new chairs because their bosses found them remarkably uncomfortable.
As the company was founded in the 1970s, the employee luncheon featured dozens of Donna Summer and Bee Gees impersonators. Prizes were awarded for best outfits. The festivities wrapped up with a family picnic.
Overall, this was not an expensive anniversary program, but it did require significant planning.
CELEBRATING WITH THE PUBLIC
For companies that distribute products nationally or globally, an anniversary program is a perfect marketing hook. Consumer incentive promotions or sponsorships can have far-reaching effects that outlive the festivities. Here is a brief sample of successful customer incentive initiatives targeting the public:
NEXT TIME WE'LL GET IT RIGHT
Unlike other corporate parties, you only get one chance to celebrate a diamond anniversary or a golden jubilee. Here are a few cautionary tales to keep in mind during your planning sessions:
Forget Me Not
A large media company pulled out all the stops for its week-long anniversary festivities. There was only one thing missing: the employees. The company was so wrapped up with its high-profile events featuring celebrities and VIPs, it more or less forgot the rank-and-file. The anniversary was primarily about generating publicity, not thanking its people. Employees received inexpensive, token gifts that looked even worse in comparison to the goody bags the party goers enjoyed.
Local newspapers picked up on the loud grumbling, and the company didn't exactly come out as an employer of choice. As a result, it spent the days after its anniversary spinning damage control.
When Good Ideas Go Bad
To commemorate its 100th corporate anniversary, its corporate centennial anniversary, the corporate centenary, a company came up with the concept of setting up life-sized photos of employees dressed in period costumes in its headquarters. The decision to use actual workers instead of models or actors was roundly applauded. Management stated employees helped build the company over the decades, they should..be part of the historical tribute.
The applause turned to boos when the lucky employees were announced: primarily public relations and marketing folks, salespeople and managers. Very few hourly workers made the cut and certainly no one from the so-called blue-collar part of the company. The driver with 15 years of seniority and a spotless safety record had been overlooked. The two night watchmen who had foiled a robbery earlier in the year weren't on the list either.
Instead of serving as a reward or bonding experience, the photo exhibit became just the opposite.
Thanks for Nothing
Instead of a gift, employees received a certificate of thanks on the company's 30th corporate anniversary. They were then supposed to present this same certificate to a colleague to thank him for being such a great co-worker. The certificates could be redeemed for a $10 company contribution to one of three local charities.
Problems began almost immediately. First, employees outside of the headquarters region had never heard of the local charities and weren't motivated to use the certificates. Second, employees did the math and realized that even if all the certificates were exchanged, the program wouldn't cost more than $2,000, a woefully small sum considering the company was supposed to be in good shape.
Needless to say, employees and the public were less than impressed with the company's efforts.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q. Upper management is nervous about having so many decision makers in one place together. What are my options?
A. This is a perfectly valid concern and there's really no way around it. Have the company's leaders choose who among them will attend. With so many VIPs in attendance, security costs will be a notable line in your budget.
Consider compiling an interesting film montage of all the company's leaders to be presented during the celebration" This will allow everyone to participate without requiring his or her presence.
Q. We want to have a companywide celebration during regular office hours, but we have three eight-hour shifts. How do we include everyone?
A. You can't during office hours. One option is to schedule the festivities for a weekend, even though some people will be annoyed with this claim on their free time. Weekend events cut down on work conflicts, and spouses and children are free to attend.
Perhaps shut down the company for a 24-hour period and schedule the event for the early evening. Graveyard shift workers are usually awake during this time so you'll increase the chance they will attend the event.
Q. Should we cover the travel expenses for retired management and employees?
A. It would be a wonderful gesture, but most budgets can't handle such sentiments. Perhaps the company could pay a fixed portion of each visitor's travel costs. At least try to arrange special airfares and hotel rates. However, don't be surprised if people refuse the invitation unless their expenses are covered.
Q. Is it appropriate to celebrate the anniversary of a product?
A. Absolutely. Product anniversaries are a wonderful customer incentive opportunity. After all, consumers usually become attached to products first, companies second.
Q. We want to establish an on-site archive to commemorate our anniversary. What should we include?
A. Think of the archive as a time capsule that isn't buried but rather is available for all to see. Ideally, it should reflect all aspects of the company's history and character. Don't be afraid to have some fun with it. The archive should be informative as well as entertaining.
The exhibit should highlight the organization's place in its industry and this sector's significance to the country overall. It can display company products, equipment, newspaper clippings, promotional items and advertisements over the years. Include biographies of the founder as well as past presidents and CEOs.
Post Anniversary Questions and Follow-Up
As with any large undertaking, a debriefing afterwards is necessary. The project manager and his team should detail what worked and what didn't to help those who plan the next companywide celebration. It also makes sense to talk to participants about the anniversary. One-on-one conversations should be combined with a post-program survey by email or regular mail, if anonymity is preferred.
Here is a sample of questions: