Every organisation has a different reason for marketing and promoting its archive. For a new archive, these activities might be associated with establishing the archive as a service, developing the collections and justifying investment in staff, resources, digitisation etc.
This was the case with the Peel Group, which prior to 2013 had no official archivist role, but held plenty of surviving archival material and historical artefacts. Peel is an infrastructure, transport and real estate investor, which traces its roots back over 250 years since the ports, canals and companies it owns have been integral to the history of the North West of England and the UK as a whole.
In my experience of establishing a business archive from scratch, it is clear that central to the success of marketing your archive is knowledge and understanding of your intended users and their needs, and making the archive relevant. With this in mind, here are my three ‘top tips’ to consider when thinking about promotional activities for your business archive.
Tip 1: Be visible
Take every opportunity to show-off what material you have. The need to preserve material has meant that archives have traditionally been kept under lock and key, and whilst digital media has opened up access there is still nothing like seeing the real physical item.
If you are lucky enough to have display cases these can be used to showcase examples of archives. But you may find that having items out on your desk when processing collections in an open plan or shared office space can also generate interest and curiosity from colleagues and visitors.
Image below:Archive display cases at Peel Group head office
Be visible within your organisation by going out and visiting other offices or departments. If you catch wind that there might be material somewhere – however slim that chance may be - go and make yourself known as it could lead to a larger collection being transferred to the archive.
Discovering material depends on establishing contacts within the organisation that may know the whereabouts of potential archives, provide access to long-forgotten rooms or may eventually trust you to hand over material in their possession.
Consider your brand identity. This isn’t something every organisation can do but it can be useful in giving the archive weight and to highlight the existence of the service across the company, whilst providing a sense of corporate identity.
Tip No. 2: Communicate
Communication is key to promoting and marketing your archive. Being visible is of course a form of communication, but there are other ways of communicating with your organisation about what material you have. Examples might include dedicated archive pages on the staff intranet and monthly anniversary posts sent out via email.
Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself or go over old ground. Be realistic - not everyone is going to take notice of the archive all of the time and you will need to remind people that the archive is there and that it can be a valuable source of information.
Think carefully about your communication strategy. Colleagues are more likely to read short and succinct emails with images sent out on a Friday afternoon than an essay on a Monday morning!
Tip No. 3: Meet the needs of the business
Ask yourself: what do your users need or want from the archives? This isn’t always obvious and you may need to do some research by finding out what sort of information is useful, and how archives have been used in the past.
Make any outputs and outreach activities relevant. For example, a series of annual calendars to be sent out to stakeholders has provided us with the opportunity to use historical material and demonstrate the value and relevance of archives. Each calendar has taken on a different theme that looks to be relevant for the coming year, whether a major anniversary or a new project. When one recipient emailed to say that ‘all this stuff has currency and could really help in providing context for our activities’, we knew we had got something right.
Image below: Example of a Peel Archives Calendar on the theme of ‘Pioneering in the Powerhouse.’
Be flexible and don’t just think in terms of pure, traditional archives. A lot of the material used in the calendars isn’t actually from our in-house collections. However the calendars demonstrate that heritage, records and history are important and relevant and this can hopefully lead to investment in developing and preserving the archives of the business.
Finally… Determination, Perseverance, Patience
Our company motto is ‘Determination, Perseverance, Patience’, which I think is fitting for any new or established archive wanting to promote and market its service:
Be determined in what you do, whether that be building your collections, attracting new users or securing investment.
Persevere with what you are doing. Keep asking for material or investment because at some point it might generate the answer you want.
Be patient. You need to be realistic. Things don’t happen overnight and so be prepared to wait for that deposit to materialise or for the investment to come.