Monday, October 28, 2013

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

The Foundation was established by Robert Wood Johnson II (1893-1968), who built Johnson & Johnson into the world’s largest manufacturer of health products. RWJF’s mission is to improve the health and health care of all Americans. With over $9 billion in assets, it is one of the ten wealthiest nonprofit foundations in the world, making annual grants of over $400 million per year. The main About Us page is here.

The About Us pages of the RWJF site have several excellent features. One is navigation: at the top and bottom of each page, we can see where we are within the site. Frequent links to other About Us pages and to other RWJF pages make it even easier to explore the website.

Products/Services: A
The Newsroom page is one of the best we’ve seen: it offers links to pages for stories about RWJF, RWJF’s own press releases, features, videos, speeches and commentaries, blogs, and the RWJF DataHub. Our Commandment 4 of About Us pages is “Don’t take your own name in vain.” RJWF makes it easy for us to find their own material and the best material published about them.

The timeline, alas, is not so good. It appears as a series of photos that are not self-explanatory: e.g., a close-up of Benjamin Franklin’s eye from the $100 bill. Until we click on a photo, we have no idea what topic it’s linked to. In our Mondrian-loving moments we might admire the way the photos are slotted together, but that’s not enough to offset the fact that we couldn’t get an overview of RWJF’s accomplishments. The Our History page sorts RWJF’s focus over 40 years into a few major headings – an interesting perspective, but no substitute for an overview.

From the Timeline page there’s a link to a page celebrating RWJF’s 40th anniversary. It’s always great to see a company celebrating its corporate history, but the page is initially a bit confusing: most of the above-the-fold space is occupied by a slide show of stories that don’t deal with the anniversary.

Personality: B
The page on Robert Wood Johnson is top-notch: a substantial amount of well-written text, an appealing photograph, and a caption that summarizes the bio for those too impatient to read the rest of the text. Our only suggestion for improvement are to add his birth and death dates (we had to look them up on Wikipedia) and to make the bio more vivid by including some direct quotes from Johnson. In the same vein, some direct quotations from the current members of the board (see the Leadership and Staff page) would liven up their canned bios. Surely among the numerous videos on the RWJF site of President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, there must be some words worth putting into print.

Accessibility: C
The Contact link is in the tiniest possible type at the last possible place on the page: it makes us wonder if RWJF really wants to hear from us. Their online email form has an unusual approach, asking us to click a radio button for the topic we’re interested in. It looks elegant, but we’d rather have a choice of emails, in case our inquiry doesn’t tidily fit into one of the standard categories.

The navigation, newsroom page, and founder bio on RWJF’s site are all worthy of emulation.

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; has no ties to this company.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Two-sided building turns 50

Fifty years ago, the world's only two-sided building opened--the headquarters of Phoenix Insurance in Hartford, CT. The Hartford Courant did a good story about the Boat Building, as it's called, on Oct. 18. This is a bittersweet anniversary for me because Phoenix's story was the first corporate history I wrote. My book celebrated the company's 150th anniversary in 2001 and is actually buried in a time capsule with other memorabilia on the building's plaza.  Phoenix went public in 2001 as well--not long before 9/11, as it sadly turned out--and the company has since changed radically. That history book is truly a history. (There has never been another two-sided building, but that's a story for another day.)

Phoenix's HQ, the two-sided
"Boat Building."
Photo courtesy Hartford Courant

A longtime Phoenix employee who championed the book has long since been laid off. We keep in touch; that's one of the ongoing pleasures of chronicling businesses. He wrote me this morning: "Corporate history books are so darned interesting. I still take ours off the shelf and relive the process and the period. I'll bet no one has ever so thoroughly explored and exploited their history as we did for our 150th. Too bad you didn't create a business model for us too."

Monday, October 21, 2013

Cue the tears for oral history?

What do you think of Story Corps, the nonprofit oral history program that turns 10 years old this week? Do you cry, laugh, or change the station when NPR airs a segment on Friday mornings? If you didn't catch Steve Inskeep's feature on Story Corps today, check it out here. The online comments are as fascinating as the coverage, ranging from timfxf11's slam ("Everybody has a sad story. Everybody has a blog too. That doesn't mean I want to hear it or read it. It reminds me of the old TV show Queen for a Day.") to SpanishPipeDream's praise ("There seems to always be a lot of grace, compassion, forgiveness, love, commitment and atonement in the stories. And, with the news the way it is today, it is a welcome reminder of the other side of humanity.").

Oral histories are the backbone of the business history work we do here at ... but we try not to turn them into "Queen for a Day" (a show that actually predates yours truly, but I get the drift). In the Story Corps model, friends or family interview each other. That's perfect for highly personal  remembrances, but in business history an informed third-party interviewer can make a big difference. 

Glad to see that Story Corps opted for a book for its 10th anniversary!

Monday, October 14, 2013

IKEA: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

IKEA, the world’s largest furniture store, was founded in 1943 by 17-year-old Ingvar Kamprad, who named it using his own initials and those of the Swedish farm and town where he grew up. Today the company is privately held by a foundation based in the Netherlands. In fiscal year 2012, sales of IKEA’s low-priced, eco-friendly designs were over $3 billion, in 298 stores in 26 countries. IKEA’s main About Us page is here.

One praiseworthy feature of IKEA’s About Us pages is the frequent, enticing links between the pages. For example, when we finish reading about Democratic Design, we see a teaser (photo and link) to a page with more information on IKEA’s suppliers.

Also, the IKEA About Us pages have a wide variety of great still photos showing “the many people” (as IKEA calls us) enjoying IKEA products. Bravo!

On the down side, the site’s videos don’t add much to the text and still photos. Take “Find out how we work at the IKEA Group and learn all about our value chain,” a six-minute video on the Company Information. It shows a group of people in an IKEA factory watching a man drawing a cartoon. The time-lapse drawing process was far more interesting than the cartoon’s content. Well, better to have pointless videos supplementing good still photos and text than to have only videos, as many websites do.

Products/Services: A
It’s impossible to read the IKEA About Us pages without getting a strong sense of the style, materials, sources, value, and functionality of IKEA products. Well done - and all too rare!

Personality: D
The best way to convey a company’s mission is not through noble abstractions: see our Commandment 2 of About Us pages (“Thou shalt not generalize”). It’s through the story of what the company has done and why. In the area of corporate history, IKEA falls flat. The About Us pages refer to the fact that the first factory was in Almhult, Sweden and that the company is over half a century old. They include a charming picture of founder (and still advisor) Ingvar Kamprad with aisles of IKEA merchandise looming behind him. But the site offers no narrative history of the company and no timeline. According to Wikipedia, IKEA celebrates its 70th year in 2013: there’s no mention of that milestone anywhere on the site.

Burrowing around, we eventually found the whole of Kamprad’s 1976 “Testament of a Furniture Dealer” ... buried in a link halfway down the Working at the IKEA Group page, where chances are only a few extraordinarily eager potential employees will ever spot it. On the Company Information page, though, the first statement under the “Vision and business idea” heading is in quotation marks, and is taken directly from the “Testament” – without attribution to Kamprad!

Accessibility: A
IKEA does a great job of helping customers or potential customers access the information they need. On the Customer Service page, we’re offered a choice of shopping online, locating a store, choosing IKEA services, contacting IKEA, becoming a rewards member, checking return policy, checking warranties, or giving feedback. If we choose Contact Us, we’re offered some of the same choices, but also the option of reading a FAQ, sending an email, making a phone call, downloading assembly instructions, or requesting spare parts or hardware. This level of detail on the Contact Us pages makes us feel that IKEA really wants to help us and hear from us.

Work your visuals, especially the still photos: not all visitors will want to invest time in watching videos. Also, make it obvious to visitors to your site that you truly want to hear from them and help them.

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; has no ties to this company.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Happy 50th to Melwood

Happy 50th anniversary to Melwood, a Maryland nonprofit that literally began its operations in a cast-off Army tent. It grew to become a leader in the advancement of people with disabilities. A few years ago, the team at had the pleasure of co-authoring and publishing a book with president emeritus Earl Copus, a/k/a "Mr. Melwood," about that historical journey. Today we send best wishes to this wonderful group, and its recently appointed CEO Cari DeSantis, as Melwood celebrates its first half-century with a gala and a renewed commitment to its vital mission.

When you recall that special education didn't even exist until 1975 -- the year that our country passed the landmark Public Law 94-142, which mandates all public schools to provide a free and appropriate education for children with disabilities -- then you realize that we've come a long way since those dark ages. Organizations like Melwood have helped to lead the way.