Anniversaries – the communications gift which keeps giving…

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Suzy Giles, Head of Global Communications and Branding, International Baccalaureate

In communications, having powerful stories to share is our bread and butter. What an anniversary gives us is an opportunity to tell our most important story of all –the story of what we stand for. An anniversary provides you with a year-long hook to hang your stories on, and if managed in the right way, an anniversary can keep on giving to the organisation as a whole.

Anniversaries should not be viewed as just a communications exercise, they are also a leadership opportunity. They can help an organisation to reflect on its strategy, inspire and motivate employees to a new level of performance and ignite ideas about a future direction. At their best, they are an opportunity for business growth and can be embraced by all parts of your organisation.

To enable that level of success, you need to ensure that all of your employees are aware of what you stand for, and can articulate this to your major stakeholders. People will have joined your organisation at different stages of its journey, and won’t all have the same historical context – the reasons as to why certain decisions were made, milestone successes and times which were difficult. Revisiting the story each employee now belongs to allows them to see the part they play in the bigger picture. The education sector is rarely faced with a shortage of stories, but the challenge is to curate them to tell a coherent and easily digestible story of your impact on the world.

Whether you are five years in, or fifty years in, there are some things everyone can consider to make the most of the opportunity:

- Spend time refining your story – speak to your internal and external stakeholders to see how they currently talk about the organisation and look at where the gaps are. Is everyone, from senior leadership to part-time employees, speaking the same language when asked what the organisation stands for? If not then work on the messaging you want to be consistently pushed out during your year.

- Involve your employees in ideas – they all play a part in your organisational success so allow them to exchange ideas and suggestions on how they would mark this milestone – but don’t overpromise. It’s not possible to act upon all suggestions, nor would you want to, so choose carefully and communicate sensitively.

- Theme your approach – if your story is complex and covers a wide range of activities, then communicate through themed areas. Your story needs to speak to your impact, and needs to be clear to your audiences why they should be interested.

- Make it personal – the story of the individual who has been impacted by what you do is a powerful thing. Make your anniversary stories relatable to your key stakeholders you are trying to reach.

- Leverage your community – communicate the stories of those who you work with and who are a key part of what you do – students, alumni, research partners and collaborators. But make sure the stories you tell have relevance to the external world. It’s easy to look inwards when gathering content, but make sure it will work for you to meet your key objectives.

- Brand appropriately – there are often events and stories throughout a year which are worthy of your anniversary branding, but you don’t need to brand everything. Stick to your themes and maximise the impact.

- Set your KPIs before you start – agree your objectives and what you want to achieve at the beginning, and ensure senior leadership are clear. Many suggestions will come your way during an anniversary year and you need to be confident to prioritise what you set out to do – and clear KPIs are a way to keep you on track.

Of the anniversaries I have led, there have been a plethora of great stories to tell, and events to bring people together. But I have found it is the personal stories that have had most resonance, and have engaged people over and over again. At the International Baccalaureate we are currently telling the story of the impact an IB education has had on the personal lives of some of our alumni  Powerful stories are often best with a human face.

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