Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Smart 150th Anniv Campaign by The Nation

As you'd expect from a serious magazine, The Nation is celebrating its 150th anniversary in intelligent style. Its organizational history campaign has covered all the bases:
  • A history book, pictured above, is subtitled "A Biography" -- a smart approach to corporate histories, in our experience.
  • A commemorative magazine issue is being offered throughout the year as a subscription premium; it can also be downloaded as a PDF at no cost. It contains a strong mix of past, present, and future. As publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel says on the anniversary website: "In a rich series of archival excerpts, we reprint some of the best that was thought and said in our pages—much of it inspiring and eerily prescient, some of it shocking . . . . Interspersed with the archival excerpts are three sections of new material." 
  • The Nation doesn't gloss over the rough spots. Per vanden Heuvel: "We have also included a few selections that turned out to be less than prophetic." (The bigger lesson here, as CorporateHistory.net advocates to clients: All organizations have sensitive issues. Write an honest history, with tough situations described factually and placed in the context of lessons learned.)
  • Numerous live events and discussions are taking place nationwide in public libraries, museums, and theaters -- it's a robust calendar.
  • There's even an anniversary cruise in December. Given the amount of thought and research that has gone into this 150th-year campaign, I imagine that The Nation knows its demographics well enough to make a profit on this.
  • Although The Nation is best known for coverage of political and social issues, it generously includes poetry from the archives in its anniversary issue. It's not always easy to secure reproduction rights, so special kudos on that. What a list of poets! It ranges from Robert Frost and William Carlos Williams to Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Bishop, and many more. 
  • A related documentary by Barbara Kopple, "Hot Type: 150 Years of The Nation," is playing at art houses. 
Bottom line: The Nation knows its audience, meets them where they live, and positions itself for the next 150 years. And it has spaced its anniversary publications and events across a full year, instead of relying on a single hit. Many good lessons here!

Monday, May 11, 2015

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

In the era when airplanes were still built of wood, William Boeing's work in the timber industry near Seattle gave him the experience to break into aviation. In 1916 he incorporated "Pacific Aero Products Co.," which later became Boeing. The company has a century-long string of firsts and mosts in aviation. Today Boeing is one of the world's largest airplane manufacturers, the second-largest defense contractor in the world, and the largest exporter in the United States (by dollar value). Its stock is a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The main About Us page might be either History or Our Company: see next section.

The top navigation menu on Boeing’s home page offers History, with tabs for Overview, Products, Strategic Airpower, Pioneers, and Founders Video. Several slots to the right on the Home page navigation menu is Our Company. On the History page, there’s no reference to the company’s current size and preeminent status in the aerospace industry. On Our Company, there’s no reference to Boeing’s distinguished, near-100-year history. At the very least, there should be multiple links between these sets of pages. As they stand, they suggest that the company’s history has little to do with its current state.

Products/Services: C
Our Commandment 7 of About Us pages is, “Remember to keep the navigation easy.” We’re not sure who designed the navigation on this site: we hope they don’t do maps for pilots.

The General Information tab is called “Boeing in Brief” on the page and “Overview” on one of the nav menus. It offers a solid summary of the company’s size and worldwide reach, as well as the company’s divisions: commercial airplanes, defense, engineering / operations / technology, etc. But it needs links to pages dealing with those sections (e.g., the list of Products for the commercial airplanes heading), so the visitor doesn’t have to stumble around the site if he’s interested in a particular topic. The Boeing site has great information, but it’s not easy to access.

There’s also an uneasy balance (which we are seeing more and more often) between web design for desktops and for smartphones. The History page, for example, opens with a huge photo that occupies most of the screen on a desktop. (On a smartphone held portrait-wise, it takes up barely a quarter of the screen.) Clicking on a submenu such as Products takes you further down the same page. To get to the actual list of products, you have to click another link, to a page with yet another huge above-the-fold photo, and then scroll through a two-column list of airplanes, with, alas, no images to help you along. But once you get to the page for the DC-9 (for example), there’s an interesting, informative write-up, including the airplane’s specs and the history of its manufacture and use. On this page, which concerns one particular airplane, the huge photo at the top of the page makes sense.

The timeline that appears under History / Strategic Airpower offers great images and intriguing facts. But its navigation is bafflingly complex. One arrow directs us to scroll down. At the left is a timeline with clickable years. At the upper right is an arrow that brings up informative text and photos, with a row of clickable airplane silhouettes. At the lower left is an arrow that makes headlines pop up. Clicking on this and that and the other graphic made my head spin like a propeller. I moved on without knowing how much of it I’d actually seen.

Personality: C
Kudos to Boeing for including a long list of Pioneers, not only for Boeing for but for McDonnell Douglas and other companies that have become part of Boeing. Too often, the history of a company that was taken over fades into oblivion.

But here, too, there are navigation problems. On the Pioneers subpage of the Our Company menu is a good short bio of William E. Boeing, with a link to a longer version in PDF. But why, oh why, is there no link to the excellent video of him that’s available under History? Business anniversary tip: That video is a terrific example of how to use archival footage to make your corporate history come alive. Assuming Boeing celebrates its centennial next year, the video deserves a place of honor.

The pages on Boeing’s current leaders are, unfortunately, not so impressive. The page for the CEO, W. James McNerney, Jr., gives scads of details about his experience at other companies, but says absolutely nothing about his vision for Boeing. A bio on the Boeing page needs Boeing-oriented information.

Accessibility: E
The Contact Us page (buried in the footer under Popular Links) seems to be aimed only at people who might want to make suggestions for the web page, rather than contact the company for business purposes. “We do welcome your comments about our site, as they help us in identifying new areas of interest for future content. ... If you still need help, contact the Boeing Webmaster using the below form.” The Media are given a link to a separate page.

This is a major lapse. Clients and investors should at least be given a link to a page with contact information for them.

Use your company history, but also tell people about the company’s current goals. And always be sure potential clients can reach you.

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.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Behind BAYADA's 40th Anniversary Book

On press this week is a 112-page company history created by CorporateHistory.net for the 40th anniversary of BAYADA Home Health Care. It's one of the most fascinating companies we've had the privilege of working with. "We'd like to see more emotion in the book," said Founder and President Mark Baiada and other in-house readers after they reviewed the first draft. That all-too-rare response indicates BAYADA's keen interest in corporate storytelling. 

Shown above are press sheets at Penmor Lithographers in Maine. This story will continue after the book makes its debut at BAYADA's annual Awards Weekend at the end of May.

In the meantime, if you want to see honest videos about home health care, check out BAYADA's YouTube channel. They will bring tears to your eyes, yet they don't sugarcoat the realities.

A bit about BAYADA: Every day, BAYADA Nurses, Therapists, Home Health Aides, and Medical Social Workers provide quality care to people of every age and stage of life, in 22 states and India (through a partnership there). The company's heartfelt commitment to providing care with compassion, excellence, and reliability--a philosophy known as The BAYADA Way--is an extraordinary example of a living, breathing corporate culture.

Monday, April 27, 2015

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

The Rado brand launched its first collection of watches in 1957, but the company history goes back to Schlup & Co., who had been producing watch movements in Lengnau, Switzerland, since 1917. Rado’s forte is the use of sophisticated materials such as high-tech ceramics: they produced the first scratch-proof watches. Today the company, still headquartered in Lengnau, has some 470 employees and is part of the Swatch Group. The main About Us page appears when you click “About Rado” in the top menu.


Products/Services: D
The big problem with the Rado About Us page is obvious from its opening lines: “2010s. 2013 - Rado further develops its use of ultra-light high-tech ceramic, presenting the DiaMaster RHW1 in ‘old bronze’ coloured Si3N4 TiN. ...” This is the page that appears when you click “About Rado” in the top menu, but there’s no summary of the company: what it produces, where it’s located (if you’re a Swiss company making watches, surely location matters!), what market its products are aimed at. Our Commandment 1 of About Us pages is, “Know thy audience.” The first About Us page ought to be self-sufficient. Rado’s is not.

Rado has excellent photos ... on two completely different timelines, one of which counts backward, the other forward. The one on the main About Us page is, as we said above, so abstruse that a layman is unlikely to understand it. The Design Milestones timeline (under About Rado / Rado & Design) works forward from 1958, describing specific watches and what made each innovative. Its text is easier to grasp, but needs work. For example, we’re told that the 1981 Anatom was the first Rado watch “that exhibits a curved ergonomic form in order to “[this quotation is never closed] embrace the wrist with anatomical perfection. The design of the Anatom dial is reduced to keep its minimalism ...”

For a Swiss watchmaker not to be precise plays havoc with our preconceptions. Our Commandment 9 of About Us pages is, “Worship clarity.” If you’re translating web pages for an international audience, have them proofed by someone fluent in the language.

Personality: D
The Rado People page is elegantly laid out. But we expected it to list the company’s management; instead, it talks about the celebrities who wear Rado watches. There’s precious little elsewhere on the site about Rado’s corporate history. Although the timeline on the main About Us page goes back to 1917 (the founding of Schlup & Co. clockwork factory in Lengnau), we’ve been unable to discover on the Rado site what the relationship is between Schlup & Co. and Rado.

Accessibility: C
The Contact Us page (reached via a link at the end of the footer, under “Keep in Touch”) has a mailing address, phone number, and an online form. This is minimal but acceptable.

Always start your About Us page with a brief summary of your company, geared to your target audience. If you’re going to mention your history (and you should!), be sure to give some details that make it impressive.

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 20, 2015

Exemplary 125th Anniversary Website by Barnard

Barnard College does almost everything right on its 125th anniversary website:
  • Good video with a mix of old and new
  • "125 Scrapbook" invites students and alumnae to share their Barnard stories -- oral histories with a soft touch
  • Ultra-thorough timeline; the parallax design is confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's easy to slice and dice by category 
  • Photos of alumnae from all fields tell a story of accomplishment. It's not clear at first that you can click on each one for a short bio (in fact, you can do that); I would have liked to have heard the voice of the person pictured as well, wherever possible. 
In all, excellent organizational storytelling and a fine use of archival material. It's a site that should also work well as a recruiting tool. (And keep in mind that this praise emanates from someone who made it a point not to attend an all-female college.)