While most businesses focus on the present and the future, the memory of a company’s journey since its beginning is worthy of preservation. Every company should consider developing an archive that encompasses digital and physical records, and artifacts, organized and preserved in a purposeful manner.
A business archive contains records like correspondence, reports, photographs, marketing collateral and other items that capture the stories and document the social, cultural and operational history of a company.
Why create a business archive?
Business records form the collective memory of a company. They are the documentary evidence of past events, worthy of preserving for historical and cultural purposes. Company archives contain hidden and valuable treasures. They may hold the key to what makes a company unique and special, such as a secret recipe, product samples or designs.
Yet a well-organized and carefully maintained archive can also be an active business resource:
- An interesting corporate history can create positive branding messages and establish a unique identity.
- Old photographs and product literature can be referenced in new sales and marketing materials.
- Archived records can spark new research and development efforts.
- Archives help protect the company from trademark infringement and other legal and IP threats.
- Managers and leaders can learn from history to plan for the future and gain inspiration from examples of how past challenges were met and overcome.
Each company has a unique history, made up of its products, people, culture and achievements. Taking pride in this history instills a powerful sense of identity and purpose. Business histories played a role when US-based Kraft took over UK-based Cadbury, founded in 1824. Cadbury was not for sale and actively resisted the Kraft takeover, leading to many obstacles. A Kraft study of the histories of both companies, analyzing similarities and differences, helped ease the transition.
How to begin creating a business archive
The first step may be ownership: identifying a person or team with a strong belief in and commitment to the company’s success. In order to succeed, the project needs a leader with a vision and a plan, as well as strong support from the company. As other employees see that the project is valued and supported by management, they often step up with ideas and support.
Next, establish your preservation and archiving goals. Your archival plan should fit with the business purpose, vision and mission.
Then consider what needs to be kept and why? It is important to have a clear policy. Over the years, items or documents may have been kept on a random or subjective basis. When an organized archival program begins, the items already stored must be reviewed and re-organized.
Items that should be considered for archiving include product packaging, marketing and design material, employee documentation like job descriptions and payroll records, photos and videos of events and awards.
Once goals and policies are established, practical considerations should be addressed. These include:
Storage: An experienced professional archivist can recommend secure protection for your materials. In general, these items should be kept in a climate-controlled space, safe from fire or water threats that could permanent damage and deterioration.
Access: Archives should be safe-guarded by establishing policies and procedures regarding the use and return of archive materials. The policies should determine who has access to what materials.
Ongoing management: Contrary to popular belief, archiving is a dynamic, ongoing process that requires regular care and feeding to ensure a comprehensive timeline of the company’s history.
A professional archivist can help you establish and prioritize goals, proceed with care and efficiency and ensure your historical records are properly documented and stored. By preserving your company’s past, you secure the its heritage to help protect and plan for the future.