Monday, September 29, 2014

Archiving secrets revealed

Good glimpse of what an archivist does in this New York Times article, which profiles Mary Hedge in her daily work at New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority and as she prepares for an exhibit that will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The exhibit opens on October 30 at the New York Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn. The 1920s newspaper (image at right, courtesy MTA Bridges & Tunnels Special Archive) was an imaginary depiction that came true when the V-N opened in 1964. 

My favorite part of the piece: The archivist "records oral histories when longtime transit executives approach the end of their service. She interviewed the officers who were on duty in the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel on Sept. 11, 2001, as people fled Manhattan following the terrorist attack, and after Hurricane Sandy she recorded the stories of staff members who were involved in dealing with the storm and cleanup. 'Retirements and disasters,' she said." recently helped recruit an archivist for one of our current clients. She and an assistant did a tremendous amount of work in a single week, bringing box-level order to almost 40 years worth of paper. This material will support other projects in the client's history plan. The client was thrilled and is considering bringing the team back to archive its digital items. It was a good reminder that companies can keep archives under their own roof (no need to pay monthly fees to a warehouse) -- and that even a small investment in archiving pays ongoing dividends. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Stryker Corporation: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

In 1941 Dr. Homer Stryker, an orthopedist in Kalamazoo, Michigan, was dissatisfied with medical products that didn’t meet his patients’ needs. So he established a company to manufacture items to his own specifications. He invented the Turning Frame (for repositioning patients who needed to remain immobile), the Cast Cutter, and the Walking Heel. His company became Stryker Corporation in 1964 and went public in 1979. Today Stryker is one of the world’s top medical technology firms, producing implants used in joint replacement, surgical equipment, emergency medical equipment, neurosurgical devices, and more.  Still based in Kalamazoo, Stryker is a Fortune 500 company with 22,000 employees and annual sales of $8.7 billion. The main About Us page is here.


Products/Services: C
The summary on the main About Us page is short and to the point: what field the company is in, what medical technologies it offers, and its global reach. Most of the space on this page is taken up by a link to the 2013 Annual Review. Unlike most annual reviews, this one is heavy on the illustrations and laid out with photos and headlines that do a great job conveying the excitement of Stryker’s cutting-edge work.

The timeline, Company History, is not so impressive. The narrative at the top skips from Dr. Homer Stryker’s interest in creating better medical products straight to Stryker’s current position as a global leader in medical technology. A quick overview of the company’s expansion would be useful here, because it’s impossible to get such an overview from the timeline that follows.

In the timeline, the first 10 or so items are well chosen. But from there, it degenerates into a list of 50-odd acquisitions, milestones, and awards, all presented with equal emphasis. The awards would certainly have more of an impact on a page of their own. Our Commandment 5 of About Us pages is, “Honor thy readers and their attention spans.” We doubt that anyone will ever wade through this timeline—especially because it contains not a single image. And Stryker misses an easy opportunity for corporate storytelling. Why not tell us a little more about the evolution of Stryker from a family business to a publicly held firm, and let us know if any Stryker descendants are still involved?

Personality: D
Not much personality here. The CEO’s biography could apply to any leader of any company, and appears, mysteriously, on a page with the title “Johnson.” Little information is given on the founder of Stryker, although in a stunning example of inessential information, his birthdate begins the company timeline.

Accessibility: C
The Contact Us page offers many different departments, but no names of specific people. As always, this leaves us with the impression that the company doesn’t really want to communicate with us.

If your company is the result of one man’s vision and still runs on that, make sure to feature his goals and values prominently in your About Us pages, and tie the corporate history and current status to it.

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, September 17, 2014

Happy 50th anniversary, Nutella

I'm so proud to be Italian. We built aqueducts that still function 2,000 years later. We nurtured Michelangelo, da Vinci, Puccini, and Anna Magnani. And we gave the world Nutella. This WNYC story by Dan Charles tells a great little corporate history of Ferrero, its wartime invention of Nutella, and how it drives the hazelnut market. The chocolate maker had to mix hazelnuts into its confections when it couldn't procure enough cocoa in World War II. Nutella was then sold in bars as pasta gianduja (here, pasta means paste). In 1964 it became Nutella in jars and has since become an international staple. 

A tasteful (!) anniversary campaign by Ferrero includes some polished corporate storytelling, including a portal that invites Nutella nuts to tell their own stories. A web store offers affordable celebration items, pictured above. 

Because of Nutella and a genetic tendency toward tree blight, hazelnuts are in short supply. The WNYC story reports that tree scientists at my alma mater Rutgers are working on a disease-resistant strain that can be cultivated worldwide. Glad that people at Rutgers are concentrating on something other than the Big Ten these days. While I freely admit that I prefer the company's other products, especially Ferrero-Rocher chocolate bon bons and Tic-Tacs, I nonetheless extend a big congratulazioni per il tuo cinquantesimo anniversario to Nutella.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Oshkosh Corporation: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Oshkosh Corporation, founded in 1917 as the Wisconsin Duplex Auto Company, is a leading manufacturer of access equipment, specialty vehicles, and truck bodies. Major brands include Oshkosh (defense vehicles), JLG (aerial work platforms), Pierce (fire trucks), McNeilus (concrete mixers, refuse collection), Jerr-Dan (towing), and CON-E-CO (concrete batch plants). Obviously they’re not to be confused with the Oshkosh B’Gosh company, part of Carter’s Inc., which makes clothes for kids. Still headquartered in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Oshkosh Corporation employs 12,300 people and had 2012 revenue of $8.18 billion. Its main About Us page is here.

Oshkosh would get an A grade except for its Company History page, which has been under construction for some time. Given the company’s long history and the well-written text on the other pages, we’re expecting something splendid. But why leave this vital page virtually blank, especially with a 100th anniversary coming up in less than three years?

Products/Services: A
Oshkosh’s About Us pages are terrific: short, pithy, powerful. The main page has a great one-sentence summary of the company: what it does (“designs and builds the world’s toughest specialty trucks and truck bodies and access equipment”) and how it does it (“by working shoulder-to-shoulder with the people who use them”). A few more lines briefly elaborate. A picture of an amazing vehicle tops the page, and at the right is a photo of CEO Charles L. Szews, with a quote that reinforces the summary. This is a perfect example of our Commandment 2 of About Us pages: “Thou shalt not generalize.” From our first look at the main About Us page, we know exactly what Oshkosh’s products are and what the company’s attitude is toward its customers.

The Company Profile page gives a similarly pithy one-page overview of the company’s major brands and what each one’s specialty is, and adds the company’s founding date, a list of worldwide operations, and total employees. Minor point: the link to the video is broken ... but we’d rather see a photo of another cool truck, anyway. A little more corporate storytelling would go a long way here.

The Technology & Innovation page (again with great pics) also refers to the company’s founding: a nice use of corporate history to reinforce the idea that Oshkosh is in this for the long haul. The Acquisitions page lists Oshkosh’s major acquisitions, again briefly but with links to further information. More surprisingly, it lists the criteria they use when considering an acquisition: a happy variation on the usual tedious list of names and years.

Personality: C
Oshkosh starts to convey its personality on the main About Us page, where they feature a photo of one of their high-tech trucks alongside a photo of CEO Charlie Szews and a relevant quote by him. Given that great start, it’s puzzling that we can’t find any pages listing the corporate leadership, either under About Us or the Investors tab. Googling “Charlie Szews,” we found a page on Oshkosh’s site that has his bio ... but the fact that we had to resort to Google means there’s a serious navigation problem.

Accessibility: A
Our Commandment 8 of About Us pages is: “Remember to make yourself and your organization easily accessible.” Many organizations seem unwilling to give names and emails of department heads. Bravo to Oshkosh, whose Contact Us page lists half a dozen departments with names as well as titles, and actual email addresses rather than an online form.

Keep your text brief and to the point, and supplement it with pictures that show what you do and who you are. But don’t allow blank pages to linger, especially when you have an exceptionally rich business history.

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, September 2, 2014

Branding starts with your creation story

Patrick Hanlon’s Primal Branding is a bit dated (originally published in 2006) but still fascinating. It analyzes why certain brands gain “visceral traction in the marketplace,” while other brands with equally good offerings fail. Crux: Branding is a belief system. Specifically, Hanlon (who also blogs for says the “creation story is the crucial first step in providing answers to why people should care about you, or your product or service.” If “creation story” sounds a lot like corporate history, that's because they're almost identical.

Excerpt: The creation story not only answers who you are and where you come from, but helps set up the further pieces of primal code (creed, icons, rituals, pagans, sacred words, leader). Every company was started somewhere, somehow, by someone. Like telling a good tale, the opportunity is how to make it interesting…. It’s all about creating a sense of meaning. When people believe in and belong to a brand it’s no longer about the task, it’s about the experience. When people shop for outdoor equipment they don’t say, “We went shopping for a tent.” They say, “We went to REI.” When they travel out of state to gamble, they don’t just say, “We went gambling.” They say, “We went to Vegas.” 

Further, Hanlon points out that while the creation story may be well known to old hands at a company, newer employees may not have a clue. This, he says, “results in a fractured culture, with people who … have internalized what the company is about, while everyone else (managers included) stumble along.” Great reason to include basic company history in onboarding sessions (print, video, displays). And to spruce up your website's About Us or Our Story pages. Be honest: When did you last update those? Our bimonthly reviews of About Us pages reveals that many companies with major brands don't pay sufficient attention to their web history presence.

The power of a good creation story was hammered home today by a sponsorship spot on a WNYC newscast. I heard and remembered a pitch by Veteran Movers: founded by an ex-Marine; gives jobs to vets; does moving jobs in the NY metro area. That's all I need to know. The story sticks. If I heard someone was moving, I'd say "Hey, have you heard of Veteran Movers? Sounds like they're worth checking out." All on the strength of 10 seconds of creation story!