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 Dig into unpublished materials.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.