It seems that too often celebrating, let alone the planning for, key anniversary dates is an afterthought. Don’t have angst over that key anniversary. Plan well in advance and leverage the milestone to maximize your organization’s key messages.
As much as some of us at CFM have a passion for history, we’ve learned not to celebrate history for the sake of remembering the past. Milestones – such as a group’s 50th anniversary or the 25th year since a market-leading product first appeared – should be used to drive home current messaging.
For example, CFM just observed its 20th birthday with a major rebranding effort. We rolled out a new website, changed our name, created a new logo and launched a thought-leadership branding effort with five new frequently updated blogs.
Another good example? Few think of celebrating infrastructure. But Clean Water Services in the Tualatin Valley, first formed as the Unified Sewerage Agency, is observing year 40. A careful telling of Clean Water Services’ remarkable achievements helps the agency describe the national respect it has earned and the role it plays in preserving water quality.
How about this positioning in the Lake Oswego Review (October 14)?
“Today CWS has become one of the leading water resource management facilities on the West Coast and now regularly receives awards and accolades instead of fines,” the newspaper reported. “The new wastewater treatment agency  eventually came to manage not just 64 million gallons of sewage each day, but also surface water (from storm drains), river flow and, most recently, (along with regional water districts), water supply planning.”
Here are some suggestions on preparing for an anniversary:
Have a vision for success: Focus on a vision of success. What are the desired results? Don’t let process-bound planning committees take you off course and slow the program. Make sure communicators and public affairs staff are centrally involved.
Involve key audiences: On the subject of committees, be inclusive and check with representatives of key internal and external audiences about defining a vision. Keep members of this group as occasional advisors, but don’t get them absorbed with the tactical steps.
Gather your assets: Look through the institutional attics to find old photos, videos and other assets that will help in your storytelling.
Be integrated: Repurpose existing resources for an integrated, targeted communications program. Consider outside sponsors for special events.
Key messages: What are your priority key messages for moving the organization forward? Carefully select historic nuggets emphasizing these points. Don’t just tell a chronological account, but discuss trends that underscore the key messages.
Engage the community: Create events and opportunities that help engage the community. As an example, create and post electronic postcards on your website that visitors can send to friends.
Mixed media: Media outreach remains a must, but do not be surprised if local TV and newspapers ignore or lightly cover your milestone. Work to reach your audiences directly.
Be memorable: Have fun and create materials and events that are memorable.
So, you’ve waited too long and your big milestone is in two weeks. Don’t sweat it. TriMet once celebrated its 10th anniversary during its 12th year. It’s never too late if you are clever and original in bringing home the message.