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How to Select the Right Company Anniversary Events

By Ken Owens
President, Owens Marketing Group

What are the best corporate anniversary events for your organization? For most people, this is a tough question to answer.

If you ask two additional questions, you make the decision easier:

  • Whom do I have to reach?
  • What do I need to tell them?

In other words, who are my audiences and what are my messages?

These questions are not always asked, even in the best organizations.

Recently, I met with a large, very successful company that is preparing to celebrate a milestone company anniversary. To do so, they will design several events for employees and other audiences.

When I asked what messages they would deliver, they stunned me by saying that to convey messages through their events was beyond the scope of the celebration.

They are going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to celebrate, but can’t articulate what they hope to accomplish by these events.

To get event ROI, know what you want to accomplish
Without knowing what you hope to accomplish with your anniversary events, you can’t possibly know how to design those events. Nor will you be able to judge the success of those events.

When we helped the College of Nursing at the University of Rhode Island celebrate its 60th anniversary, their events delivered to a variety of constituents the message that the College has been educating nursing leaders for 60 years and is extremely well positioned to continue to do so.

Over the course of the year, events to deliver that message included a kickoff dinner for friends of the college, a daylong classroom and social event for alumni and a successful fundraising gala for the public supported by a wonderfully diverse group of people and organizations.

The venue can help convey your message
Even the event venue can play a critical part in delivering your message.

Sevenson Environmental Services, headquartered in Niagara Falls, NY, transformed its equipment garage into a marvelous location for a formal party for 500 with a stage and live music, video, full dinner and participation by employees.

Red Hat, which bills itself as “The world's most trusted provider of Linux and open source technology,” celebrated its 10th anniversary with a worldwide tour in which executives held forums and met one-on-one with customers to learn from them what they wanted from Red Hat for the future. Red Hat reported getting a greater sense of their users, as well as now having more feeling and passion for their work.

Harman Kardon, one of the world’s most recognized names in high-quality home entertainment products, thought a beefed up presence at a trade show in Berlin was the right place to kick off the celebration of their first 50 years and talk about their plans for the future.

Kelly Services captured USA Today’s attention, and the world's, when it wrapped its 10-story headquarters in a 50th anniversary bow.

Then, a team of caterers, florists, decorators, entertainers and technical production staff transformed Kelly Services’ parking lot into a 1946 diner complete with a malt shop, gum-chewing waitresses, vintage automobiles, and USO-style dancers for more than 1,100 employees and local dignitaries.

Each of these events conveyed the companies’ understanding of their audiences and the messages they wanted to convey. The events grew out of this understanding.

Celebrities add pizzazz
Ours is a country of celebrity watchers, for good or ill. Take advantage of that fact when you design your event. Some of my experiences with John Hancock Financial Services are dramatic examples of the excitement celebrities generate.

We put our sales people on the golf course and then on the ball field with former baseball greats like Jim Rice and Johnny Bench and many more. There were many sore muscles, and a lot of life-long memories.

Former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher posed for photos with our sales people and then held them spellbound with her remarks for over an hour as sharpshooters kept guard from the spotlight towers.

Guests literally ran to get the best tables when they learned that Ray Charles was to be the entertainment for a sales convention’s final night.

When Senator George Mitchell, Chairman of the Northern Ireland Peace Negotiations, spoke to our guests at an event in Ireland, it provided a rare and intimate glimpse into a world-changing event.

The room was full of affection, and the atmosphere electric, when former President Ronald Reagan addressed a group of our top salespeople and took their questions.

The crowd went wild when host Duke Snider introduced Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays as they walked up the center aisle of the hotel ballroom. On the stage, to the delight of the audience, they bantered with each other and presented awards to our guests.

Olympic gymnasts Blaine Wilson and Shannon Miller signed autographs and posed for photos for hours with our guests at an event co-sponsored with INC Magazine.

Ask the questions first
Many organizations can help you create an event. But you have to know your audiences and what you want to say to them. There are even companies to help you determine who your audiences are, and other companies to help you craft your messages. Only occasionally are they the same company.

An effective event strategy integrates your anniversary activities into your overall branding, marketing and communications efforts and enhances them. Your events are not one-off happenings, but integral to your marketing success.

So ask the questions first. With the answers you can create the exciting events that are not only fun to attend, but are effective in conveying your critical messages to the right audiences.


Ken Owens headed up Olympic and Event Marketing for John Hancock Financial Services, a recognized leader in event and sponsorship marketing, before forming his company, Ken is a member of the Kullberg Consulting Group whose service,, provides effective assistance to companies celebrating company or brand anniversaries.

The Kullberg Consulting Group (KCG) is a strategic alliance of sixty entrepreneurially driven companies, representing all disciplines of marketing communications, with combined experience working with over 585 companies in 21 major industry groups.

Gary Kullberg founded and manages KCG. He is a well respected marketing and marketing communications professional, who has practiced his craft in New York, and now Rhode Island, for over thirty years.

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