As we look back on 40 years at Gibbs & Soell, we are grateful to our clients, employees and advocates, whose support makes our existence possible. Looking back, we realize this rich experience gives us a solid foundation for the future.
However, we are also compelled to ask, “Does our anniversary matter to anyone else?”
When founders Dick Gibbs and Dick Soell opened the PR firm’s doors for business, the freshman class of business entrepreneurs that year included the creators of Starbucks and Lucasfilm. It was 1971.
Four decades later, these brands remain part of the business fabric. None among us is impervious to adversity, but all have survived because we have adjusted to the changed environment. And the changes have been dramatic—a landscape razed of brands from the retail, banking, automotive and publishing industries.
Does brand longevity hold the same value today for a public that has witnessed the demise of once-mighty institutions that had survived for multiple generations?
The public relations industry cannot deny its love affair with anniversaries. There have been enough to fill the annual Chase’s Calendar of Events since 1957. But this wasn’t always the case.
Before the late 19th century, anniversaries of less than 50 years typically were not cause for public celebration. It took Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887 to start the frenzy, according to The Invention of Tradition, edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger. By the time the monarch reached her diamond jubilee 10 years later, the festivities grew to include a spectacular parade.
Modern tendencies to commemorate may have less to do with the need for lavish attention than a desire to acknowledge survival amid rough conditions. When Charles Darwin, a contemporary of Queen Victoria’s, wrote about “survival of the fittest,” he could have just as easily been referring to the mortality rate of businesses.
According to the Web site of the U.S. Small Business Administration, “Seven out of 10 new employer firms survive at least two years, half at least five years, a third at least 10 years and a quarter stay in business 15 years or more.”
Should we raise a glass to self-preservation? Unlike organizations and products, a brand is an intangible resource leveraged primarily for communication and legal identification. However, there’s no doubt that a strong brand is a strategic asset; a symbol of the promise a business or organization makes to its stakeholders. Keeping your word ought to be good for a toast or two.
As professional communicators, we play critical roles in upholding brand promises every day. But it’s not a perfect world, and promises aren’t always kept. Too many broken promises later, the public now questions the value of brand continuity more than ever.
Is the raging debate about whether some companies should be deemed “too big to fail” really about something else? Strip the term of its Washington and Wall Street veneers and you get to the emotional heart of the matter: Businesses have to earn the right to stick around.
There are positive signs of a shift in thinking about anniversaries. A recent search for “anniversary” on a news release distribution site yielded celebratory announcements ranging from an organization hitting its two-year milestone to one observing its 125th year in business.
Rubies are the traditional gift commemorating a 40th anniversary. However, our organization is more interested in giving back as we look forward. As we celebrate, we’ll be keeping these thoughts in mind:
• Pledge resources for community involvement. Genuine CSR requires neither a yardstick nor a bullhorn. Identify a real need in your community and commit time, money or contacts to help.
• Acknowledge heroism among employees and clients. Businesses cannot thrive without passionate employees and clients. Supporting the causes they dedicate themselves to personally can also be a strong motivator at work.
• Keep it going. Creating a special initiative rings hollow if there’s an expiration date. So perpetuate purpose beyond the anniversary.
As President Woodrow Wilson said, “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and to impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” PRN
Luke Lambert is president of Gibbs & Soell Public Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.