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Organizations that reach milestones, celebrate successes, plan for transition or embark on new initiatives generally have important stories to share. These stories have the power to inspire, excite and support those vital to your company's purpose.

 
 

            How can an organization illustrate their history and values? As part of their anniversary program, many organizations create special historical publications. Visually, an organization's history can be both exciting and complex. Good planning and well thought out design offer an organization the chance to communicate vital messages and images using historical and values-based perspectives.

 
 

            Having produced more than two dozen organizational history books, Blue Grotto Inc. has learned how to write and design publications that are reflective of our clients' standards for excellence, innovation and partnership. Here are are some of the most frequently discussed questions and concerns that arise from our clients.

 
     
  WHAT DOES A HISTORY ACCOMPLISH THAT OTHER COMMUNICATION PIECES CANNOT?  
 

An effective corporate history communicates an in-depth story of your company. It's the difference between ordering appetizers or having a five-course meal. While most communication materials have a much shorter message and goal, a well written and designed history will help your reader understand in depth how and why your company exists. Telling your company's story helps put perspective on past, present and future decisions. It defines culture in a way that marketing pieces cannot and should not.

 
     
 

HOW DOES PRODUCING A HISTORY DIFFER FROM PRODUCING OTHER COMMUNICATIONS PIECES SUCH AS ANNUAL REPORTS, NEWSLETTERS, OR MARKETING MATERIALS?

 
 

Because of its big picture approach, the main message in a corporate history is quite different from other marketing communications materials. Its job is to tell a story, rather than to sell a product, service or specific idea. Most histories span a considerable amount of time, covering not only your company's history but also showing how factors larger than your business community affected outcomes. A good history will successfully integrate that historical perspective into your company story, which adds a level of context that can be valuable to readers. Communicating culture, values and historical context is a complex job. Working with professionals outside your staff lends a valuable detached viewpoint to this type of project.

 
     
  WHO INSIDE THE COMPANY IS TYPICALLY INVOLVED IN THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS?  
 

Our experience demonstrates the value of identifying a point person within your organization from the beginning. Let your point person deal with the day-to-day issues of your publication. Then, you might identify a small group of up to five individuals to serve as a design/editorial group, addressing issues such as layout, concept, consistency, and use of archived materials. It's important to set up a process that will enable the professionals you hire to do a better job, rather than constrain their creative capacity.

 
     
  HOW DO I FIND A DESIGNER WHO CAN WORK FOR MY COMPANY?  
 

First, look at samples of corporate history publications. Experience is key in doing this specialized type of work. When you look at their samples, ask yourself if the design is well integrated into the publication. If the design stands in the forefront, or overpowers the text, this can take away from the reader's journey. Second, meet the designer. Don't be afraid to ask who you will be working with directly. (Some larger design firms will use junior designers to work under seniors.) Because there are so many pieces to track on a history book or publication, make sure you know who is in charge and what type of access you have to them.

 
     
  WHAT VISUAL ELEMENTS HOLD A HISTORY TOGETHER AND WHERE DO WE FIND THEM?  
 

Photography is one of the most important visual elements in a history publication. Other visuals include everything from telegrams, personal correspondence, newspaper articles, novelty items or three dimensional promotional items to cancelled checks. The first place to look is in your archives. Many companies don't have archives per se, but they may have collections of old files and memorabilia in storage. Digging through dusty boxes is an important part of the research process. The gems you uncover can lead to interesting story lines or sidebars. Again, working with a team who has experience in historical design will make a difference. They have creative ideas about how and where to find supporting visuals.

 
     
  HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT TO INCLUDE IN YOUR HISTORY PUBLICATION?  
 

A history has a key message, and every visual aspect of the publication needs to reflect that message. Think of a hamburger: we generally put lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles and condiments on our hamburger. Why? Because they relate to the hamburger. We wouldn't want anchovies, carrots or creamed corn, even if we have plenty of them on hand. Likewise, we try to be selective about what we use in a history publication, resisting the temptation to throw in materials that don't reflect the main message, even if they are available for use.

 
     
  DO I NEED A SPECIAL LOGO FOR MY COMPANY'S ANNIVERSARY PROGRAM?  
 

Many companies think right off the bat they need an anniversary logo to kick off an anniversary celebration. Before moving too fast on that track, ask yourself some important questions: where would we use this logo? Do we have a budget to develop a logo? What role would this graphic play in our overall communications message? Because logo development can be lengthy and expensive, it is important to prioritize your dollars. Do your planning first, and if your logo supports your plan goals, then proceed by all means necessary. Prioritizing your resources is key.

 
     
  WILL A HISTORY PUBLICATION BE OF VALUE BEYOND THE ANNIVERSARY YEAR?  
 

Yes! When people are asked what items they would rush to save if their home is on fire, photo albums are at the top of most lists. Why? People understand that there is inherent value in keeping visual records of important moments and people. If your company is considering producing a history you are recognizing the value of your past. Will the documentation of that past-the story of all who have worked so hard to make your company successful-remain valuable after the anniversary has passed? Absolutely.

 
     
  HOW LONG DOES IT GENERALLY TAKE TO PRODUCE A COMPANY HISTORY?  
 

Putting together a timetable is a critical part of the planning process. There must be adequate time built in for research, interviews, and design. Histories are large projects that are best when they have a workable pace, with attention on a regular basis. Understanding the value of pacing and a consistent approach is important to the creative process. It's more like a marathon than a sprint. For those reasons, we generally recommend a one-year development process-six months for editorial, six months for design-which can be adjusted based on the size and scope of the project.

 
     
  Rachel Fine is the Creative Director of Blue Grotto Inc., a Minnesota business that specializes in working with organizations to document culture and values, celebrate milestones, and articulate vision.