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HAPPY ANNIVERSARY Celebrating Company Landmarks: Successful events require planning, budgeting, teamwork and, in some cases, a tractor-pulled trolley or two.

There's nothing like a milestone to bring out the creative juices--and sense of historic pride--in telco companies. To commemorate its 50th anniversary, MoKan Dial, Inc. in St. Louisburg, Kan., held a drawing every Friday for four weeks, offering customers in good standing a $50 gift certificate. Adams Telephone Cooperative in Golden, III., got ambitious during its 60th anniversary, building a 30-by-8-foot historical time display for its annual meeting in 2012.

Companies make full use of social media, newsletters, milestone-themed gifts and prizes and promotional discounts to get the word out about their anniversary and get customers excited. Others have offered scholarships to show support for their communities.

Then there's the piece that ties it all together: the special anniversary logo that appears on everything from banners to merchandise.

No matter what you do, it's always important to plan ahead, budget in advance and schedule your promotions and events accordingly. Know your audience, its demographics, and figure out the specific needs of your audience with respect to transportation, food and entertainment.

Decide what your message is in relation to your anniversary and the theme of your celebration, said Bob Dahlstrom, marketing representative for Valley TeleCom Group (Wilcox, Ariz.), which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012.

Once that happens, everything else falls into place, according to Dahlstrom and other telco reps that have gone through this process.

FABULOUS FIFTY

The 50-year mark is a popular landmark to celebrate. Several telcos have taken on this milestone with gusto, tailoring merchandise, food, logos and entertainment around this theme. For its 50th anniversary, Valley TeleCom Group, which offers high-speed internet and digital phone for home and businesses as well as hosted IP PBX services for businesses, placed a spotlight on the cooperative's long history and its importance in the local community.

Seeking ideas from the entire company, "we tried to make it a monumental event and kept focusing on giving back to our members and customers," Dahlstrom said. Pivot, a customer engagement agency, worked with Valley TeleCom to create a special anniversary logo, which it promoted throughout the year to signify this important anniversary.

"We wanted to let people know we've been here for a long time," Dahlstrom said. Thus, the telco made every effort to play up the number commemorating its half-century mark. Everything the company did--and gave away-centered around the number 50.

Valley TeleCom created a company timeline of historic milestones on double retractable banners, then prominently displayed the banners in all four of its offices. It also offered free, limited edition 50th anniversary souvenirs to customers who visited the Valley TeleCom offices. Each quarter of 2012 featured a different item. In the first quarter it was pocket calendars/appointment books, followed by 50th anniversary-themed gold foil chocolate coins, Valley hand-held fans adorned with its logo, and exclusive gold Valley TeleCom-branded Christmas tree ornaments in the succeeding quarters.

Interstate Telecommunications Cooperative, Inc. (ITC; Clear Lake, S.D.) capitalized on the mood and themes of the 1950s era when it celebrated its half-century anniversary back in 2004. ITC serves more than 12,500 customers across 4,200 square miles in northeastern South Dakota and southwestern Minnesota, offering broadband, phone, digital TV, home and business monitoring. ITC plans to be 100% fiber-built by the year 2020.

ITC created a special logo for its celebration, aptly titled "Fabulous 50s." The logo appeared on all material, clothing and other promotional items for the entire 50th year. It was designed in-house, which saved on the budget.

"The date for our 50th celebration was our annual meeting [that] took place at a school in Clear Lake," recalled marketing supervisor Kathy Weitala. The company set up tents, booked a 1950s band, and served a beef and chicken dinner. It also took steps to provide accessible transportation and appeal to families with children.

ITC's general manager guided participants through the company's 50 years of service in a PowerPoint presentation, highlighting its history and accomplishments. "To get more families [to attend the event], we hired a kid's entertainer, served a kid's meal and had a drawing for a boy's and girl's bike. After our meeting, the band played and people were encouraged to dance and enjoy," Weitala said. Three tractor-pulled trolleys picked up attendees from various parking spots around town.

The company also gave away Red Wing crock pots to its members, and logo-emblazed golf shirts for employees and board members.

Through its monthly newsletters, ITC kept the celebration going all year long, publishing articles on its 50 years of service. "We also discussed what life was like 50 years ago. Bread cost 15 cents. Average salary was under $3,000. Prime time TV was 'I Love Lucy' and 'Gunsmoke'," Weitala said.

CASSCOMM in Virginia, III., has had several landmark anniversaries worth celebrating. It began its first telephone service in 1898 as Cass Telephone Co., eventually franchising out as Virginia and Little Indian Telephone Company. "The telephone wire ran from the community of Little Indian to Virginia, providing telephone service within the city limits. The construction wires were strung along roadsides, attached to any stable device available," according to Casey French, the company's director of marketing and public relations.

The telephone, cable and internet provider now has more than 1,600 landline phones and 2,000 digital phones, serving 15,000 total home subscribers. Cass Cable TV, Inc. offers more than 200 high-definition (HD) channels, serving 9,000 customers in 32 communities in central Illinois, said French. "It also provides high-speed internet services to more than 32 communities and has an internet subscriber count of 13,000. It just started upgrading its full plant to fiber-to-the-home capability, offering residents speeds of up to 1 Gig."

One of its first customer appreciation events took place in 1998 at its new office headquarters to commemorate 100 years of telephone service, French recalled. "We had a circus ... come to town. We Invited all of our landline customers, which at that time was over 4,500 customers."

In 2015, its cable service hit 50 years. "For this milestone, we did a promotion offering $50 a month for cable services," French said. Employees received winter coats with CASSCOMM's "50 years" logo embroidered on them. In 2016, the company celebrated 20 years of internet. "For this milestone, we gave all the employees a nice burlap tote bag with '20 years of internet' on it," he added.

A COMPANYWIDE EFFORT

Telcos that have planned these events say it's crucial to involve all sectors of the company, and to establish a budget in advance.

It helps to delegate and break things down, they said. Weitala, who coordinated ITC's 50th anniversary celebration, first determined key subject areas with her colleagues, "and then subcommittees developed from there." The general manager sought out employees interested in the company's history and appointed people to entertainment, history, food and public relations subcommittees. "Each of those groups had their own tasks to do," Weitala said. Many of ITC's 54 employees, including staff and management, worked on the project.

You have to think about big ticket items first, advised Weitala, whose board of directors approved a budget. "We knew that once we subtracted the dollars out for entertainment and food, we'd have more flexibility for other things."

Valley TeleCom broke things down by quarters in 2012, which made it easier to come up with a budget. "We did get an increase in our marketing budget for the following year because we'd already organized what we wanted to do," said Dahlstrom. "This is a good reason to plan ahead, a year in advance if possible. Ask yourselves: How much in next year's budget can we set aside? And why do we need this money?"

Valley TeleCom enlisted the help of an outside graphics company to design its logo. Other companies worked with internal staff to keep costs down. "We were lucky to have graphics people in our marketing department to help design our logo. It takes time but reduces costs," said Weitala.

COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS

Looking at things in retrospect, there's always room for improvement. Valley TeleCom fully leveraged its website, community events, bill messages and monthly e-newsletter to keep customers informed of anniversary activities. Annually, it gives scholarships to eligible students who are members or the children of members of its cooperative, funded through unclaimed capital credits. "During our 50th year celebration, we awarded a total of $85,000 in scholarships to 37 students. That number has significantly increased since then," Dahlstrom said.

Nevertheless, he wishes the company would have done more boots-on-the-ground work in the local communities, educating people about Valley TeleCom's work in starting telephone services in very rural areas over the last 50 years.

"Those communities didn't have phones in 1962. And that's why the cooperative was formed. It's owned by members and has become a part of the fabric of those communities. I think we could have done a better job of explaining all of that."

NEVER TOO EARLY TO BEGIN A PLAN

Any telco with a major milestone celebration under its belt will tell you that timing is everything in planning these events. Although it wasn't specific to an anniversary, French remembered one time when a back-to-school promotion didn't go as successfully as planned. "We started it too late, in August." You learn from your mistakes, he said. For this reason, it's always a good idea to think ahead, and time your promotions in the most optimal way.

It's also never too early to start formulating a plan, said Dahlstrom. His company's 60th anniversary is coming up in three years and people are already getting ideas down on paper.

Start having conversations--not just about how to celebrate your telco, but how to celebrate your members. For the next anniversary, Valley TeleCom is hoping to do more work within its service territory. "The plan is to celebrate the 60th in our communities," Dahlstrom said.

BY JENNIFER LUBELL

Jennifer Lubell is a freelance writer. Contact her at jenniferlubell@gmail. com.
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Author:Lubell, Jennifer
Publication:Rural Telecom
Date:Jun 22, 2019
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