Whether it is the retirement of the founder, a major transition, or a milestone anniversary—every company gets to the point where writing its story becomes a serious consideration. Here are 3 essential tips by Canadian corporate history expert and company history writer Dr. Ulrich Frisse on how to get it right the first time.
Interviews with the founder, executives, long-term employees and other stakeholders will be your most important source of information. Make sure to ask the right questions and apply a comprehensive approach to your interviews. While planning for each interview, keep in mind that you need to cover a plethora of topics, including the founding story, evolutionary milestones and company values. Direct the interview by asking specific questions, but also give your interview partner the opportunity to reflect on abstract terms and what they mean for the company, like innovation, loyalty, integrity, family entrepreneurship, service, and relationships.
You need to have a base chapter structure outline before you start writing your company’s story. Keep it simple and don’t overthink it at this early stage in the corporate history writing process. Every corporate narrative follows a somewhat chronological structure. A decade by decade approach is often enough to get you started. Sort milestones, stories, and quotes from your interviews into that base structure and don’t worry about the right connectors between chapters until later. Review and readjust your chapter structure after you have incorporated all your base content. At this point, you will most likely be left with material on specific themes with no home in the narrative yet. This is the time to develop some additional theme chapters on concepts that will differ for each company: for a highly innovative company it might be “Innovation and Technology Leadership” whereas for a family business it might be “Multi-Generational Family Entrepreneurship”. Most importantly, trust your corporate story writing abilities throughout the process.
Don’t limit yourself to writing a strictly chronological narrative. Incorporate real-life stories that show the values and impact of your organization in action to make your corporate history engaging and inspiring for your readers. Long-time employees and customers are the best source for stories that speak to the character of the founder, the company values, philosophy and culture. Employees typically remember things like your founder working side by side with them during the early days of the company. Long-time customers will be able to contribute examples of when your company went the extra mile to provide exceptional service. They might also remember funny stories, like when things did not work out the first time as planned. Remember, great corporate storytelling is all about deconstructing corporate identities into human experiences that people relate to at a personal and emotional level.
One final thought. If you get stuck, don’t hesitate to ask the experts. At Historical Branding Solutions, writing corporate history in the form of company history books, corporate legacy books and anniversary books is what we do each and every day. Need help? Call us at 519-501-1412 or email us.