Monday, December 24, 2012

Business History Hazards: Part 2

A colleague sent a link to a 40th anniversary video done by a business. "You'll like this," he said. I didn't. Why?
1. Too anonymous. I couldn't tell who made this business anniversary video. I had to look them up later on Google. Turns out that many companies have their name (it's a fairly common word). I narrowed it down to a large design agency. An agency that can't brand itself accurately doesn't inspire confidence.
2. Too cavalier. The video consists of rapid-fire clips from the last 40 "Best Picture" Academy Award Oscar (R) winners. Amazingly, it offered no credits at the end. I had to wonder whether the filmmaker had obtained permissions or licensing. I doubt it (would have cost a fortune). Fair use? They still should acknowledge their sources. Woody Allen is generally not amused to see people freely using pieces of "Annie Hall."
3. Too tasteless. The theme was 40, as in 40 cheers, 40 kisses, 40 tears, etc. The clips included 40 shots (as in gunshots) and 40 ka-booms. In light of recent tragic events, I'd have edited these out.
4. Too long! Six+ minutes. I hung in only to check the closing credits. See point #2.

I'm not identifying the filmmaker or providing the link here, since I'm not that much of a curmudgeon. It was posted on Vimeo, however, which hints that this video was not made public but was used at an internal event. Maybe it was a big hit as an event opener during a gala dinner. But we all know that anything posted on the Web will migrate.

Moral of the story: When celebrating a business anniversary, it makes sense to identify yourself and the materials you draw from. And why not tell your own corporate story? Or at least weave a bit of your particular workplace drama into the general mix?

From all of us at ... Happy new year!

Part of an occasional series of cautionary and exemplary case studies

Monday, December 17, 2012

Images tell corporate story at Ebony

Ebony Magazine was the African-American equivalent of Life Magazine, pictorially reporting on news and lifestyle in the post-World War II United States. Unlike Life, however, Ebony and its sibling Jet Magazine are still going strong. Great, then, to see that Johnson Publishing has not only carefully archived 1,000,000 images from these iconic publications -- we've seen many of them in history documentaries on PBS and elsewhere -- but is now making 2,000 of the best of them available online in The Ebony Collection. That's a great example of bringing corporate history into the mainstream.

Clearly, Johnson Publishing understands the value of corporate storytelling and how to profit from its past. All this and more: it's a family business run by Linda Johnson Rice, daughter of founder John H. Johnson.

Monday, December 10, 2012

“About Us” Evaluation: Cartier Gets a D minus

Cartier S.A., French jeweler and watch manufacturer, was founded in Paris in 1847 and is still headquartered there, although the Cartier family sold the business in 1964. The company is famous for providing its fantastically beautiful and expensive products to royalty and celebrities. Its corporate history probably glitters as well. But Cartier’s About Us page is .... well, that’s a problem.

The Cartier site is elegant and attractive, but exceedingly difficult to navigate because of the unusual layout (main menu at the foot of the page) and the unconventional headings. Looking for their About Us page, we had to choose between Show Me, Guide Me, Tell Me. We chose Tell Me, then Living Heritage. Oh, but that’s just a picture of a gorgeous emerald necklace. Click the Patrimony link? That takes us to a page where we must choose between Cartier Collection, A Vision of Heritage, or Bibliography. Hmm, Vision of Heritage? Another page with another list, telling us about the company archives and the company’s collection of Cartier jewelry ... but not about this company’s business history or current executive team.

Products/Services: D
These pages have some gorgeous photos of Cartier jewelry, but the photos and text are cramped into small boxes in the center. About half the screen is dead black. There is no option to see more text at a time. When we were done with the few words on page 1, we twiddled our fingers a couple seconds more while a new page loaded, so we could read the few words on page 2.

Accessibility: E
Suppose we want to order a set of custom cufflinks for a nephew’s birthday via email. It’s not easy: no email is listed on any of the pages we’ve visited so far. Clicking Sitemap (in tiny print at the foot of the page) takes us to a page with Customer Services, and thence to a Contact page: but why make it so difficult for us?

Personality: E
We couldn’t find any information on these pages about who runs Cartier. If company executives prefer to keep that information private, then the logical option is to stress the 165-year company history through a lusciously illustrated timeline ... but we don’t see that, either. So many corporate storytelling opportunities squandered!

Mesdames et Messieurs: We know you’re not selling bling on street corners, but you could be a little less understated and a little more content-rich, and still be classy.

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?). Contact us if you’d like to have your site evaluated—there’s no charge and no obligation.
Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Business History Hazards: Part 1

A wealth management firm recently called about rescuing some business history copywriting it had commissioned and found unusable. The marketing manager wanted to fix it and turn it into "something.” She wasn’t sure what—just not a book. (Plenty of options there!) CorporateHistory read the copy, agreed it was academic and dry, outlined a few ideas, and sent samples and estimates. "You understand what we need. You’d be ideal!” Ms. X exclaimed. “But our budget is so limited. We've already spent half of it on a writer who didn't work out." [Italics added.] 

When I asked about getting transcripts from the first writer’s interviews, she replied: "We don't have any notes, and I can never talk to that person again.” Too bad you can’t save money that way, I said; we'll need to reinterview for sure. "Oh, no,” Ms X. said. “The first person messed up so badly that I can't bother my top people again."

Bother? A firm’s key partners-owners can’t spare a few hours toward their own 150th anniversary campaign? The marketing person called us twice more. Each time she sounded more desperate. Working under difficult constraints, she had to reject every idea and workaround we offered. Along the way I noted to myself that the firm hasn’t updated its website About Us page in two years – another clue that marketing is an afterthought in this organization.

I wished the caller farewell and good luck, and I meant it. She has little budget and even less support from the top. She may hire a rookie and repeat the cycle. By then it will be too late to remediate. Starting early on your business anniversary always saves time and money.

This firm will celebrate its 150th anniversary with a gala dinner in a grand hotel this spring, and they won’t swap caviar for chicken. Nor should they. But by then they may have digested another reality: top-notch business history writing and concepts don’t come at fast-food rates. Or, in the words of the classic Truman’s Triangle: good, fast, cheap—pick any two.

First of an occasional series of cautionary and exemplary case studies