Marketing Milestones

Anniversaries and other major events are not-to-be-missed marketing opportunities

By Chuck Kapelke

Dan Page Collection/

In 2018, the United States Tennis Association (the USTA) celebrated the 50th anniversary of its flagship event, the US Open. For the USTA's marketing team, the occasion was an opportunity to build buzz by tapping into the event's history, while also shifting the brand in a new direction. "We thought it was a good opportunity to refresh," says Nicole Kankam, managing director of marketing at the USTA.

With the support of agency partners Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, the USTA team developed a new logo for the event. The team also enlisted major sponsors, including Polo Ralph Lauren and Wilson, to update their designs and amplify the messaging. In addition, the USTA launched an integrated, multichannel campaign centered on the tagline "Built for Glory," which celebrated past US Open icons like Billie Jean King. The USTA commissioned artists to repaint tennis courts in underserved communities and coordinated the first-ever tennis match in space. "It ended up getting a tremendous amount of press from different resources that we wouldn't have thought would be covering tennis or the US Open," Kankam says.

The USTA's efforts were successful not only in generating ticket sales, but also in affirming the brand's long-term strength and purpose. "There's huge value to leveraging that milestone, whatever that milestone is," says Lee Remias, group creative director at mcgarrybowen Chicago, an agency that helped the USTA execute the campaign. "The way to leverage it is to bring some meaning to the brand, versus just saying superficially, 'Hey, we're turning 50.' It's creating another reason for fans to pay attention."

The USTA's effort is a model for how companies can translate the milestones that predictably happen over time — from recognizing notable achievements in the company's history to the construction of new office buildings — into meaningful brand-building initiatives.

This summer, of course, marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. While it's difficult to compete with such a seminal event, the fanfare surrounding the anniversary is an apt reminder for how marketers can leverage specific dates and events in their company's history as a way to introduce their brand to new audiences and strengthen ties with existing customers.

However, for many companies, the approach of a milestone can raise challenging questions. ANA magazine spoke with marketers and industry observers for their insights about how to successfully market around milestones.


Forge a Milestones Strategy

Job one for getting the most out of a milestone celebration is developing a strategic roadmap. "It's easy to think about throwing a big party, but to get the most bang for your buck, you need to make sure whatever you're doing to celebrate is aligned with your overall business objectives and strategy," says Julie McCracken, senior director at Padilla, a communications agency that has coordinated milestone celebrations for a variety of clients, such as the Better Business Bureau and the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission.

To plan for the year-long celebration of its 100th anniversary this year, Olympus, a global maker of endoscopes, cameras, and other technologies in medical scientific solutions and consumer products, convened a global project team with representatives from different geographic regions to develop a comprehensive plan that was "rooted in our purpose of making people's lives healthier, safer, and more fulfilling," says Stephanie Fabrizio, senior manager of communications and PR in corporate and medical communications at Olympus Corporation of the Americas. "In turn, the regional representatives established their own local planning committees with members from various areas of expertise — such as public relations, community affairs, employee engagement and events, and marketing communications — to then appropriately customize and implement activities specific to our regions."

The global team developed "toolkits" that included content such as a customized logo, communication guidelines and key messages, a historic timeline, infographics, and four documentary videos. Additional assets were also developed by other Olympus groups, including a 150-page anniversary booklet, internal historical articles, and a dedicated webpage highlighting the 100th anniversary. "Each of the videos tells a story about something from the history of our business and what our contribution has been to society — and what the future holds," Fabrizio says.

Olympus is also crowdsourcing videos from colon cancer survivors to highlight the company's contributions in tackling the disease through endoscopy; the videos are intended to be shared through social media with doctors and other target audiences.

The toolkits were distributed to Olympus offices in 39 countries. "The different locations are able to determine how they want to make it special," Fabrizio says. "It's not going to be an out-of-the-box solution. Everyone's empowered to make it a special event based on their respective location."

Key Takeaway: Celebrating milestones is not just marketing's job, but, rather, should be a collaborative process that encourages action (and provides a degree of autonomy) at the local level. "Get the right people around the table from the beginning and create a plan that encompasses all the stakeholders you want to reach," McCracken says. "Milestones are great opportunities to really position yourself as an industry leader, and if you take the time and allocate the budget to do that properly, it can really pay off."


Find Creative Ways to Build Buzz

A corporate anniversary might not seem newsworthy enough to generate media buzz, but Hilton generated extensive earned media coverage regarding its 100th anniversary last May.

The company started the effort years in advance by developing an overarching concept called "The Hilton Effect," which describes how the hotel chain has re-shaped communities where it has opened properties. Hilton enlisted Chip Heath, an author and Stanford business professor, to write a book titled, naturally, The Hilton Effect.

Marketers also found compelling examples from the company's history in the Hilton archive at Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, which is part of the University of Houston (see sidebar).

"[The Hilton Effect] created a great foundation for storytelling, and from that, we were able to naturally think about our 100th anniversary in a very holistic way," says Carole Munroe, senior director of global brand communications at Hilton. "Hilton was responsible for many firsts in the hotel industry that have changed the industry."

Leading up to the 100-year mark, the company hosted a media event in New York City that featured panel discussions about Hilton's past, present, and future. Media members were invited to sample red velvet cake in the form of cupcakes and pina coladas, now-familiar products that Hilton hotels helped popularize.

Meanwhile, Hilton's CEO appeared on ABC's Good Morning America for a segment highlighting a new program called "Random Acts of Hospitality," in which Hilton employees in locations around the world are conducting meaningful gestures that extend Hilton's hospitality beyond the doors of its hotels and into local communities.

Hilton's centennial celebration garnered coverage in more than 600 global media outlets, ranging from Forbes, which ran a story on Conrad Hilton as a pioneering entrepreneur and businessman, to Travel + Leisure, which published a multipage spread on Hilton's influence on mid-century modern architecture.

Key Takeaway: The history-drenched "Hilton Effect" served as a springboard, but Hilton's PR materials reinforced the company's current growth.

"We made sure the 100th anniversary led with the future of Hilton that's in a tremendously strong place because of our strong past," Munroe says.


Key Reminders

Major anniversaries are just one type of milestone worth celebrating. Whether it's marking a company's golden anniversary or the one-year birthday of a new product, any notable accomplishment can be an occasion to remind consumers that the brand is still going strong.

When the marketing team at Caesars Entertainment, a major operator of gaming properties across the U.S., learned that the topping off of CAESARS FORUM, a new $375 million conference center in Las Vegas, would be three weeks ahead of schedule, they organized a celebratory event in which customers, sales people, and 400 construction workers got to sign the beam that was placed atop the building.

"We felt the topping off ceremony was a really important and relevant milestone," says Reina Herschdorfer, director of marketing, national meetings, and events at Caesars Entertainment. "It sends a message to our customers and to the industry that the project is moving along as it should be, and it gives us an opportunity to showcase what the conference center is all about. It gives us credibility in the marketplace and makes our customers feel confident about where we are, and it's a way to drive traffic to our website."

The team also sent announcements to trade and business publications while encouraging the company's sales team to reach out to their customers. "The value for us is exposure and gaining new customers and continuing to have loyalty from existing customers," Herschdorfer says. "We got increased requests for hard-hat tours to see the space. It does help with our business."

Key Takeaway: Milestone celebrations do not have to be big-budget events; marketers can find creative ways to celebrate achievements to keep customers engaged and connected. "It's a way to create exposure and visibility that you would otherwise not," Herschdorfer says. "Any time we have something to celebrate, we will celebrate it."


Don't Let a Celebration Go to Waste

Celebrating milestones is not just about external marketing, but also generating excitement and alignment within an organization. "A significant milestone or anniversary is an opportunity that shouldn't be wasted," says Craig Millon, chief client officer at Jack Morton Worldwide, a global brand experience agency that has helped clients such as IBM and M&M's mark major anniversaries. "It's an occasion to bring people together, to inspire pride and unity."

Jack Morton Worldwide recently celebrated its own 80th anniversary by creating employee engagement programs under the banner, "Extraordinary Moments." As part of the celebration, the agency launched an International Day of Service, a work day in which employees received time off to give back to the community. The agency also recorded interviews between the current and former CEO (and son of the founder) focused on the company's past and future.

"It's important to start early and to make sure that everyone is on the same page with what you hope to achieve," Millon says. "You need to be clear from the outset about what you want to accomplish and who you want to target. … Some companies use a milestone to introduce a new product or service, which works nicely, too, as long as you can tie it back to the brand or company's history."

Key Takeaway: Milestones also act as a reminder to a company's employees about the "big picture," and can strengthen the brand across consumer touchpoints. "A lot of these milestones are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities," McCracken says. "They're a lot of work, but they can also be a lot of fun and there can be a great sense of pride."




Keeping History Alive

Whether it's the millionth customer served or the tenth office opened, celebrating milestones requires keeping track of a business's history in the first place. ANA magazine spoke with Jason Dressel, managing director of client strategy and development at History Factory, an agency that helps companies leverage their heritage to achieve their business goals — including by building archives programs and developing anniversary campaigns — for insights on how to keep a company's history alive.


Q. What are some do's and don'ts when it comes to how companies maintain their historic archives?

First, if it's old or "historic," it doesn't necessarily mean it's valuable. It's important to have a policy that defines what belongs in an archive and what doesn't. Second, best practice generally calls for maintaining three copies, so if you have boxes and boxes of the 2004 annual report, you can get rid of them. And third, archives are now born digital. Today's PowerPoints and emails are tomorrow's history. Incorporating content that has been published electronically over the past 25 years has to be part of the mix.


Q. What part of a company is responsible for maintaining archives?

Generally, we have found that communications or marketing is appropriate, but with collaboration and sometimes financial support from elsewhere. The challenge is that an archive should be an enduring practice. When times are tight and budgets are lean, it puts a lot of pressure on a single department, and an archive can be an easy cut. If there's some cross-functional support from areas like the CEO's office, legal, records management, and facilities, that can help. There has to be a shared and sustained commitment.
— C.K.



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