Monday, June 30, 2014

Coach: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Coach was founded as a family-run workshop in a Manhattan loft in 1941, and its handbags quickly established a cult following for their quality, function, durability, and classic style. After a brief stint as part of Sara Lee, Coach became in 2000 a publicly traded company. Coach now has almost 800 stand-alone stores in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, with sales of over $5 billion in 2013 and more than 17,000 employees. Its global headquarters are still in the loft on West 34th Street. The main About Us page (“Company Profile”) is here.

The retail side of the Coach site is attractively laid out and works beautifully on mobile devices. The pages describing the company’s business history ... not so much. Company Profile and its subpages (reached via “About Us / Company Info” in the footer of the Home page) appear as tiny text in boxes with scroll bars in a sea of vast white spaces. Viewed on a desktop, this is annoying. On a phone, trying to access the page kicks up the message, “Sorry for the inconvenience. This page cannot be viewed in a mobile format.” The About Us pages are also inconsistent: sometimes they offer the option to print or share on social media; sometimes not. Time for a major overhaul!

Products/Services: D
Our Commandment 6 of About Us pages is, “Honor thy visuals.” For decades, women around the world who appreciate quality and style have been lusting after Coach products. The scant illustrations on the About Us pages do little to remind us of that, or show what makes Coach accessories worldwide bestsellers. Why not fill that vast white space around the text with images? Yes, the sales pages are for selling; but the About Us pages shouldn’t be an imageless wasteland. Potential investors (at whom these pages are apparently aimed) should also be reminded of what makes the brand special.

Any fashion brand approaching a 75-year business anniversary has cause to celebrate, but Coach’s About Us pages are lamentably short on company history. The Company Profile page mentions the founding of the company in 1941. The bio of Executive Chairman Lew Frankfort mentions major events since he joined Coach in 1979. The FAQ gives a few details on Coach’s expansion. Think of the opportunities for defining the brand if there were a page of company history with a narrative or timeline illustrated by vintage ads! (Particularly since collectors still search for vintage Coach bags.)

Personality: A
Coach offers only four bios of management – but the first two, of Executive Chairman Lew Frankfort and CEO Victor Luis, are among the best corporate bios we’ve seen. Each is a narrative emphasizing their careers with the company and how they have been and are changing its direction. Unlike most corporate bios (including those of Coach’s CFO and Global HR Officer), these bios could not be cut and pasted directly to some other company’s management pages.

Accessibility: C
The Contact Us page accessible through the Company Profile page is a rudimentary (and quite ugly!) online form geared to investors. We suggest a link at the top of the Contact Us page for wayward customers, and a link on the retail Contact page for potential investors.

It’s better to wear your laurels proudly than to rest on them. The About Us pages should flaunt your achievements, with narrative and illustrations.

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.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Museum Like None Other president Marian Calabro at Antwerp's
Plantin-Moretus Museum. This room contains the world's
oldest printing presses, dating from around 1600.

The Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, Belgium, ranks as perhaps the supreme museumgoing experience of my life. Surely it's in the top 5. What a gem! A Unesco World Heritage Site, this 34-room edifice was the home and business of a publishing family from the 1500s to the late 1800s. Words can’t do justice to the wealth of company history displayed and archived within these walls.
Here's how canny the Plantins and Moretuses were as businesspeople: they published the list of books deemed "forbidden to read" by the Catholic Church, and they also published a number of the actual books. After all, if the books didn't exist, how could the Church outlaw them? They also published the world's first multilingual Bible and compiled the first Dutch language dictionary. Medical students throughout Europe learned to care for the ill and do surgery by studying the anatomical engravings in Plantin textbooks.

Labore et Constantia was the firm's motto.
Flash photography is not allowed (rightly so), so I burned out my camera battery as I tried to grab visual memories. I marveled to see the thumbnail sketch of a title page, then a fuller sketch, then the copperplate engraving (remember, everything has to be engraved backwards), then the press proof, and finally the title page in the actual book--all in one display case. (Two of these photos appear below.) Labore et Constantia -- work and constancy -- was the Plantin motto.

I particularly enjoyed the intact Proofreader's Room. The audio tour noted that "correctors," as proofreaders were called, were the company's most intellectual employees: they had to have a thorough command of up to nine languages and be conversant with the commerce and culture of the day. "Productive in practically every field of knowledge, the Officina Plantinana was responsible for the global dissemination of the newest discoveries in the areas in the areas of the developing sciences, the new vision of man that the entry of humanism afforded, and the diffusion of new artistic trends, then only possible through the medium of the printed--and preferably illustrated--book," as the Visitors' Guide says. The English version of the audio tour, done in British English, offers a wealth of corporate storytelling.

This short report barely scratches the surface. I'm ready to return to Antwerp just to spend another day here. Watch for more corporate storytelling from Belgium in upcoming weeks.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Annin Flagmakers book wins Apex Award

“Annin Flagmakers: An Illustrated History,” published by, has won an Apex Award of Excellence for One-of-a-Kind Publications. This year’s contest (the 26th annual) drew almost 2,100 entries; our book was one of six winners in the for-profit section of the custom publishing category. It seems to be the only corporate history book to win a 2014 Apex.

Kudos to the team: author Marian Calabro, designer and production manager Christine Reynolds, McCarthy Printers in Maine who printed the book using wind power, the expert bookbinders at HFGroup Acme Binding in Boston, and most of all to the great people at Annin. It was an honor to tell the story of a sixth-generation family business that has made flags in the USA since 1847. Annin is headquartered in the great state of New Jersey and has manufacturing plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

US Civil War signal flags, the flag that draped Abraham Lincoln's coffin, America's Cup yacht flags, the first World's Fair in London and every World's Fair since, the first flag raised at Iwo Jima, banners and flags for the United Nations, the 9/11 memorial, and countless front porches ... Annin made them all.

Monday, June 9, 2014

NJ350: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

NJ350 aims to coordinate activities in towns across the state that are celebrating New Jersey’s 350th anniversary. The closest it has to an About Us page is What is NJ350? Since is headquartered in New Jersey, we are keenly interested in the confluence of our home state and its sesquarcentennial events. (Indeed, 350th business anniversaries are so rare that we had to look up “sesquarcentennial.”)

The layout of this site is elegant and simple... but it somehow fails to convey the excitement one would expect on a 350th anniversary. Too much space is taken up by the menus; too much above-the-fold space devoted to large headlines. The site’s home page has block after block of information, in no discernible order—a daunting read. This seems to be a case of not knowing one’s audience (see our Commandment 1 of About Us pages.) The average American is fascinated by stories with heroes, but if one calls the stories “history,” will suddenly lose interest. Unfortunately, the titles and headlines on the NJ350 site seem to have been written by academics, not by enthusiasts trying to rouse interest in the fascinating past events that shaped our present.

Products/Services: C
The site’s purpose is to promote events throughout New Jersey that celebrate the state’s foundation in 1664. What is NJ350? is not enticing. It offers several dozen small photos without captions, on three separate tabs, followed by an unillustrated block of text about the state’s history. There are no links to other pages. For finding events, one has to turn to the Events page, which has a calendar and a Search Events box.

Personality: D
No information is given on who runs the NJ350 program—not even whether it’s a government or private site. If the creators want to be anonymous, some substitute personality needs to be found, such as the people, companies, and institutions that have made New Jersey’s 350 years so eventful.

Apropos, given the state’s need to retain existing employers and attract new ones, why not add a page or two focusing on business history? New Jersey is home to numerous companies with long and rich corporate history tales to tell: a few that jump to mind are Annin Flagmakers, Campbell Soup, Congoleum, Marcal, Merck, Provident Bank, PSE&G, Prudential Insurance, and Troemner (whose “About Us” pages we reviewed two weeks ago). And let’s not forget that Rutgers, the State University (alma mater of’s president) will turn 250 years old in 2016. The omission of Rutgers isn’t a surprise—the university never seems to miss a chance to make mistakes lately—but for NJ350 not to mention these long-standing Jersey organizations is a missed opportunity.

Accessibility: D
The Contact page has a standard online form. Alas, the only comment posted dates to January 30—a sad indication that the site has drawn little attention. It would be better to post no comments than to have so few showing.

Let your enthusiasm show through, or visitors to your site won’t have a clue what they’re missing if they don’t linger and explore.

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.