History communication is a valuable asset for companies
History communication is a powerful strategy for building credibility and trust, differentiating from other companies, or creating a sense of belonging. “We’ve been around so long, so we’ll be around in the future” is something that is appreciated and understood around the world. But history isn’t like any other subject. In the context of Nazi or colonial history, questions arise about how to deal responsibly with history. Felix Krebber (Pforzheim University) and Matthias Kraemer (Siemens Healthineers) shared their insights on history comms at the Science Update 2023 session in Erlangen.
History communication creates value
Felix Krebber, Pforzheim University
» The ‘Never Again Is Now’ campaign against anti-Semitism, signed by more than 100 German companies, impressively demonstrates that companies are aware of their historical responsibility. «
A company’s history is often rich in historical events and personalities. Addressing these topics can support a wide range of communication objectives. In order to structure the value creation of history communication, Felix Krebber has developed a strategy house of history comms. The model visualizes how history comms can serve different purposes and contribute to business objectives:
- In market communications: Differentiation and uniqueness
- In internal communication: Identification and motivation
- In public relations: Legitimacy and trust
How companies can communicate their history strategically
The results of a study based on interviews with experts show that the strategic communication context of corporate communication also has an impact on how companies communicate their history. The characteristics can be grouped into three categories:
Description, evaluation, and interpretation of historical events
Selection of facts to describe
Choice of interviewees
Extent of specific passages
(no active) thematization
Communication context of strategic transparency
Felix Krebber applied the onion model from journalism research to the results of the interviews in the field of history communication. This model emphasizes four aspects:
- Protagonists: The first and inner layer refers to the communication professionals who are responsible for history comms. They state that they feel obliged to remain loyal to the company and loyal to their professional ethics and methods.
- Communication activities form the second layer. Media and messages are characterized by three dimensions – perspective, selectivity, and construction.
- Organization: The third layer indicates that historical communication is committed to the goals of the organization.
- Organizational context: Here it becomes clear that historical communication must also be oriented towards social expectations in order to contribute to the legitimization of the company.
The link between business and history science
Felix concludes that history communication is the link between business and history science. This situation quickly leads to conflicting priorities for history communication professionals: On the one hand, they want to remain loyal to the company; on the other, they’re committed to their professional ethos as historians. Setting rules for corporate history responsibility helps communications professionals resolve these tensions.
History is identity: Siemens Healthineer’s long tradition in medical technology
Matthias Krämer, Siemens Healthineers
» Memory determines our personality – this is true not only for people, but also for companies. «
Siemens Healthineers bundles all its efforts in the field of corporate history in the SHS Historical Institute. The institute’s work rests on three pillars:
- Historical archives with a collection of more than 1,000 titles on the history of the company and technology, more than 160,000 photos and negatives, 850 meters of shelves with documents, 2,000 pieces of audiovisual media and several thousand exhibits.
- Scientific Work & Publication. This pillar conducts research projects, develops content for all channels, publishes books & stories, supports corporate events and congresses, and provides advice and support to corporate communications, management, business units and countries.
- The MedMuseum is the world’s only medical technology education center. It brings the history and values of Siemens Healthineers to life for the public. About 10,000 people visit the museum in Erlangen, Germany, every year, including many customers.
“Our long tradition gives us a high degree of credibility. It also helps our employees identify with the company and get through difficult times,” says Matthias Krämer.
A proof point for historical communication – celebrating 125 years of X-rays
2020 marks the 125th anniversary of the discovery of X-rays by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen. In honor of Röntgen’s discovery, Siemens Healthineers wanted to raise awareness of its role in X-ray imaging and related innovations. From the very beginning, its predecessor companies (Siemens & Halske and Reiniger, Gebbert & Schall) had driven the development of X-ray technology in the medical field.
The communications team developed a global campaign to share success stories about the use of X-rays in medicine. The campaign itself was a success, delivering measurable value to the company. And it proved that telling a story based on verified historical facts and figures can help build credibility and trust.