By Sean O’Leary, Vice President, Susan Davis International

“Will anyone care about our anniversary?”

I’ve been posed this questions many times from clients. My answer is always the same.

“They will if you make them.”

For any organization, an anniversary or a commemoration is a massively important internal milestone. Whether it’s five years or 50 years, it’s a moment in time that captures the history of what the organization has accomplished.

Of course, that internal joy may not be shared by the external world. That’s where the importance of your anniversary or commemorations intersects with the importance of storytelling. If you want your big event to resonate, it has to be about more than the year attached to your anniversary or commemoration. It needs to be about something that will connect with a broader audience.

The beauty of celebrating an anniversary or commemoration is that there is always a built-in news hook that provides the audience with an instant window into your organization.

Whether it’s 10, 25 or 100 years, an anniversary is an opportunity and a platform to tell a larger story about what you’ve accomplished, and what the future holds in store.

As an example, we worked with The Memorial Foundation in October 2021 to plan events to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the dedication of the MLK Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

We developed a strategic plan for the events that created a platform to talk about the Memorial’s evolution as a gathering place in the social justice movement.

Furthermore, the events around the tenth anniversary provided the opportunity to shine a light on the great work being done by the Memorial Foundation in educating and mentoring the next generation of leaders. At the anniversary event at the MLK Memorial, the worldwide coverage on CNN, MSNBC, PBS and more featured not only President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, but also a Foundation Social Justice Fellow.

The moment allowed for a massive, worldwide audience to hear and learn about the Foundation’s work with promising college students and young professional leaders.

The event set the stage for the Memorial Foundation’s next decade. The anniversary told a story. It was more than a date on a calendar.

For any organization, a key anniversary or commemoration is a gift when it comes to marketing and public relations because it provides a hook you can build entire campaigns around.

The most successful campaigns are built upon storytelling and developing a theme that resonates with your audience. As your organization is preparing for an anniversary or commemoration, the first step is to identify exactly what your goals are and work back from there to tell your story.

Once you set your goal, you can develop a theme that sets up the story you’re trying to tell the audience. You can build a strategy that tells that story in a variety of venues over a period of months or a full year. The anniversary or commemoration is the tie that binds all of your external outreach together.

It’s not easy to cut through the noise in 2022. That’s why anniversaries and commemorations arguably mean even more today. It’s a shortcut to attention. Our human inclination is to notice big numbers and milestones. A headline or an event about an anniversary grabs our attention, if only momentarily.

The anniversary will get them in the door. But it’s your story that will get them to stay and participate. Marry the right story with the right anniversary, and the potential is unlimited.