Tuesday, April 22, 2014

NY World's Fair Lives On

It was an antidote to the tragedy inflicted five months earlier, the assassination of JFK. It was an opportunity for NJ kids to ride the subway for the first time--the 7 train, built specially for the event. What else but the New York World's Fair of 1964-1965? I visited at least six times, led eagerly by my mother, who'd been a young woman during the 1939 Fair. She had great memories of that event and wanted to pass along her excitement to me. 

I gained my first public perception of history there. The Pieta! The Sinclair dinosaurs! Belgian waffles! Corporate history too: who can forget Pepsi-Cola's salute to UNICEF ("It's a Small World" is one of the most earworm-producing songs ever), the Ford Mustang, and General Electric's "World of Tomorrow"? (When they highlighted the pre-World War II refrigerator, my dad called out "I recognize that one!") And how about the Westinghouse time capsule, pictured here?

Wish we had the equivalent today. Sure, the Fair was commercial, but Disney World and Las Vegas don't have the same nonpartisan scope. Great piece in today's Record newspaper by Jay Levin on a collector from NJ whose items are truly archival: http://bit.ly/QCU7rW.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Black & Veatch: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate History.net

Ernest Bateman Black and Nathan Thomas Veatch founded the firm Black & Veatch in Kansas City in 1915. The company now provides engineering, consulting, construction, and operations management in water, energy, and telecommunications. It has completed contracts in more than a hundred countries on six continents. With revenue of $3.3 billion, Black & Veatch is one of America’s largest employee-owned companies as well as one of its largest privately owned companies. The main About Us page (“Company”) is here.

OVERALL GRADE: C

Products/Services: D
There’s good material on the Company page, but the order isn’t effective. The graphic at the top of the page, “Approximately 10,000 professionals in 100+ countries worldwide,” gives no indication of what Black & Veatch does. The opening sentence of the text is no better: “Black & Veatch strikes a balance that is rare for any industry.” The slogan in the second sentence (“Building a World of Difference”) doesn’t seem clever until one reaches the second paragraph, where we finally learn that Black & Veatch does global engineering, consulting, and construction.

From this main About Us page, there should be links to the pages on Black & Veatch’s mission, rankings, and awards, all of which are well described elsewhere on the site. Other pages would benefit from some links as well: why not send visitors from Rankings to Awards, and vice versa?

On the main About Us page, Black & Veatch makes good use of a narrow column at the right to offer a PDF on the company, the company magazine (Solutions), and an annual report. On some other pages, the right-hand column offers impressive facts and figures about the company – unfortunately (again) without links to further information.

Our Commandment 6 of About Us pages is, “Honor thy visuals.” The images on Black & Veatch’s site are mostly cheerful office workers who could be from any company. Are these stock photos? Why not show some photos of the spectacular projects in exotic locales that Black & Veatch has worked on over the years?

Personality: C
The History page has an unusual and helpful layout: a narrative account at left, a timeline at right of about 20 events in the company’s 99-year history. The narrative puts Black & Veatch into historical and global perspective, while explaining how it grew to its current dominant position: an excellent piece of corporate storytelling. It could be dramatically improved by including archival photos. Such images (plus some headings) would also make that dense block of narrative more enticing.

But about that timeline: has Black & Veatch done nothing noteworthy since 2010? The timeline ends abruptly there. Our Commandment 10 of About Us pages is, “Remember to keep holy the updates.” Outdated information suggests that no one’s sweating the details – not a good first impression for a company that handles multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects.

The bios of Black & Veatch’s current management (Executive Committee) are standard format, with qualifications and current duties. None gives much sense of who’s driving the company, or what direction it’s heading. In an employee-owned company, this is a missed opportunity.

Accessibility: B
The Contact page helpfully tells the Black & Veatch office nearest to you, based on location data in your computer. Other contact information is standard: mail, general email, and phone number for the company headquarters, plus an online form.

TAKEAWAY
If your company offers a wide range of services, use your corporate history to show why they’re cohesive – and don’t forget to make it vivid with images.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). To talk about your About Us page, contact us!
Today’s example was chosen at random; CorporateHistory.net has no ties to this company.

Monday, April 7, 2014

7 Things a Corporate History Book Must Do

The National Theatre Story, a 50-year history of London's great theater institution, fulfills the seven things an effective corporate history should do: 

1. Know its audience. In this case, theater lovers and drama students. 

2. Cover essential pre-history. The chronicle here reaches back to "false dawns in the early 1900s . . . on to its hard-fought inauguration in 1963."

3. Assess the role of leaders. Even if your founder and CEOs aren't as exciting as the likes of Laurence Olivier and Peter Hall, their DNA still remains in the organization.

4. Talk to key players in depth. Granted, theater people may be better corporate storytellers than others, but surely you have your equivalents to the 100 interviewees for this book, who included "Olivier’s successors as Director (Peter Hall, Richard Eyre, Trevor Nunn and Nicholas Hytner), and other great figures from the last 50 years of British and American drama, among them Edward Albee, Alan Bennett, Judi Dench, Michael Gambon, David Hare, Tony Kushner, Ian McKellen, Diana Rigg, Maggie Smith, Peter Shaffer, Stephen Sondheim, and Tom Stoppard." Don't forget the box-office folks, stagehands, costumers, and other behind-the-scenes contributors.

5. Dig into unpublished materials. Honor thy archives! Read those letters. Follow the dots between those folders to help shape the narrative.


6. Make it visual. The more photos, souvenirs, and artifacts, the better--and the layout should provide the logical frame.

7. Surprise; perhaps shock; definitely delight. Stories of political battles and disasters on-stage and off-stage add to the reality of this book about an institution whose main product is, in fact, artifice.

Bravo to author Daniel Rosenthal and the UK's Oberon Books for creating this volume.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Kabletown: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate History.net

Kabletown is a leading provider of cable entertainment with a tradition of commitment, service, and family values. The main Kabletown About Us page is here.

OVERALL GRADE: A plus
Every page on Kabletown’s site qualifies as an About Us page, and together they provide a near-perfect illustration of our Ten Commandments of About Us pages.

Commandment 1: Know thy audience. It’s as if Kabletown has read our minds: “If your ‘box is being weird’ or ‘the thing just keeps saying “boot” or ‘the DVR won't stop recording “Top Chef Masters” even though I hate it,’ we will be there.”

Commandment 2: Thou shalt not generalize. Mission statements are often full of noble abstractions that could apply to any company. But “Let Kabletown bring entertainment to you, because you bring entertainment to Kabletown” – that’s short and concise, and could never be mistaken for any other company’s operating principle.

Commandment 3: Reveal thy personality. The personality shines through from the opening explanation of the company’s name: Kabletown, with a “K” for Kindness and Keen interest in customers. We are profoundly reassured to know that the company is committed to “respond rapidly to the speed of change.” And could a company be more caring of its employees than to continue trying to resolve a flight mix-up that left 6 employees unintentionally “international”? For summarizing the management’s style, you can’t beat the quote from CEO Hank Hooper on the Our Company page: “If you're not part of something, you're just not apart of anything, darn it. And that's really nothing. Ain't that something? Ha!”

Commandment 4: Don’t take your own name in vain. Mergers and acquisitions rouse strong feelings. To present its own side of the story, What’s New? announces the acquisition by Kabletown of GE Sheinhardt NBC Universal. By the way, this page demonstrates an awe-inspiring command of the use of SEO terms: “This way, not only can we offer content in ways that content has never been offered before, but we can use the word ‘content’ almost 60% more than we used to in press releases. Our partnership with GE Sheinhardt NBC Universal will help us to better serve you, the consumer. Content.”

Commandment 5: Honor thy readers and their attention spans. The sole text on the Programming page is breathtakingly, titillatingly brief: “For an additional $12.99, Kabletown now offers you the highest quality in adult entertainment. You will be provided with our easy-to-follow channel guide designed especially for our male and female clients.”

Commandment 6: Honor thy visuals. As a reminder of Kabletown’s commitment to family programming, the header of every single page has a generously sized image of a family watching TV together. (From the expression on the adorable tyke’s face, we suspect it’s Celebrity Urologist.) On Our Company, that big thumbs-up inspires limitless trust. As for that maniacally cheerful employee on Careers ... how could anyone even think of stealing his lunch and forcing him to write inane website content?

Commandment 7: Keep navigation easy. Kabletown’s site has an elegantly simple structure: Main, News, Our Company, Careers, Programming. The pages have handy links between them. Perhaps there should be an additional submenu to help zealous visitors go directly to the TWINKS page (Television With Individuals, Naive, Kinky, Shaved).

Commandment 8: Remember to make yourself and your organization easily accessible. A minor glitch: the Contact link at the foot of the Kabletown page is linked to a subsidiary, NBC. Send us to The Office, please!

Commandment 9: Worship clarity. Gary does a great job, when he’s not in the hospital.

Commandment 10: Remember to keep holy the updates. Tut, tut, Kabletown. You were perfect so far, but why is there no coverage of the forthcoming merger of Kabletown with Time Warner Kable?

Commandment 11: Remember that blog entries are often time sensitive, and always check the date of the post.


Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). To talk about your About Us page, contact us!
Today’s example was chosen at random; CorporateHistory.net has no ties to this company.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Provident Bank Leverages Its 175th Anniversary

Provident Bank is among a handful of New Jersey companies that have a continuous, 100-plus-year history with essentially the same name. This august group includes Annin Flagmakers (we're proud to have written and published their corporate history), Campbell Soup, Congoleum, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Prudential, and PSEG (I'm proud to have written their centennial book as well). Provident has leveraged its 175th anniversary in several thoughtful ways, using it to:
  • Create a new logo (evolved from 175 years of beehives--the gold one is the latest)
  • Celebrate good corporate citizenship (the bank's Foundation has donated over $18 million to NJ nonprofits since 2003--a great accomplishment, but alas, there's a typo in Provident's web copy announcing it) 
  • Post a timeline (only 12 items for 175 years? C'mon, guys!)
  • Develop a few videos (I applaud the mention of history in the 30-second TV ad, but I like this longer one better; it features CEO Chris Martin against a changing backdrop of history images; however, it's located under "Our New Look" instead of the history section of the website, a serious mistake)
All in all, Jersey City-based Provident has mined its long history in service of corporate storytelling, showcasing a good balance of Then and Now. Kudos!