Marketing & Advertising

Your family brand: your biggest asset

Any family business owner can appreciate the marketing and purchasing mindset that buying local is better.

Every family business started as a local company. But staying local is not typically how a business grows.

From the local corner store to publicly listed behemoths like Wal-Mart and Ford, the American family business is the oldest business model we have. This economic powerhouse encompasses at least half of all U.S. companies, employs more than half of U.S. workers and accounts for more than 60% of U.S. gross domestic product.

It's easy to tick off the challenges facing family businesses of every size—nepotism issues that result in a loss of objectivity; delegation struggles; family members ill-suited as employees or leaders; discord over spending, family roles or succession; myopic focus on growth strategies; muddied boundaries between work and personal lives. If you've helped run a family business, you may well know the drill.

A family business brand—its identity—is its most valuable asset. Just like the heart of any family, the brand is what the company stands for—its core values and benchmark for excellence. Strong family business leaders value this and feel a keen sense of stewardship for their company's brand and its legacy.

As a second-generation family business marketer, I have found my challenge is to preserve our nearly half-century-old family brand, our mission and traditions, while continuing to effectively adapt to progressive approaches that profitably move us out and up in emerging markets.

Starting points? Our experience has been to maintain a foundation of trust and respect, focus on a market-driven understanding of our customers' application needs, and build a thorough knowledge base of industry-specific demands and requirements. We have found that a good number of our existing customers are second- and third-generation businesses, like us, who want to identify with the similar family values of their suppliers. How do we leverage our rich and respected history with our current customer base, as well as prospects, to grow existing business and expand into new markets? Family values translate well here.

1. Operate the way a family is wired to operate—as a team.

• Foster team pride in the company's business and in all stakeholders' contributions to the community.

• Focus on improving relationships and enhancing teamwork with all of your business partners—customers, suppliers and employees.

• Create a constant teaching, learning and mentoring culture among all members of your team.

• Honor company history but embrace change. Leverage the strength of all team members, regardless of seniority, so the team is stronger than the individual parts.

• Encourage family members to work outside the family business first and bring back a fresher perspective on productivity and profitability to the entire team.

2. Connect and respect: Treat your family like friends and your friends like family.

• Nurture a culture of mutual respect among all your employees and customers.

• Continue to deliver the heart and soul of the customer experience that the original brand creators envisioned.

• Consider all employees an extension of the family; build on points of connection.

• Develop a strong team of tenured and engaged employees, vested in the company mission.

3. Expand the family dinner table conversation, online and offline.

• Nurture the core family values that birthed the company in the first place—and tell the family business story.

• Be unwaveringly committed to the core message that got the company where it is today, and the vision for its future.

• Engage your customers online in all media available. Speak with an authentic voice and tell the story.

• Invite outsiders to the table to get fresh perspective.

And, finally, never underestimate your family business leaders and employees and their ability to surprise you with their capacity to learn, adapt, shine and grow. Build your family of brand ambassadors from the inside out. 

Risa Edelstein is the director of marketing at ECHOtape, a family-owned and -operated business specializing in pressure sensitive tape, founded in 1973 (

Copyright 2015 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

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Winter 2012 Toolbox

A helpful guide to forming a board is revised, with new survey data

Building a Successful Family Business Board: A Guide for Leaders, Directors, and Families
By Jennifer M. Pendergast, John L. Ward and Stephanie Brun de Pontet
Palgrave Macmillan, 2011
261 pp., $40





In 1991, family business researcher and consultant John Ward published Creating Effective Boards for Private Enterprises (Jossey-Bass) in an effort to convince owners of small and midsized companies that a board of directors with outside members could benefit their businesses. Building a Successful Family Business Board: A Guide for Leaders, Directors, and Families, written by Ward along with two of his colleagues at the Family Business Consulting Group, Jennifer Pendergast and Stephanie Brun de Pontet, is an updated and revised version of the earlier work, now with a focus on family companies and featuring results of a survey on board practices conducted by the group.

The book answers virtually every question a family business owner might have about an independent board: why it’s desirable to have one; how it can help the CEO and the company; how to find directors and what to pay them; what to ask when interviewing board candidates and what information to share with them; how frequently boards should meet; whether your board should have an audit or compensation committee; what items to put on a board meeting agenda; how to evaluate directors and remove those who aren’t working out; how to determine which family members should serve on your board; and how you can contribute as a director on another family business board.

An active board with independent directors, the authors assert, “is the single greatest step for family business success and continuity.” They define “an active board” as one that meets at least three times a year. To qualify as independent, they note, a board should include at least three outside directors.

Results of the authors’ survey (360 respondents, 39% from companies with revenues of $101 million and above and 32% in the fourth generation and older) provide perspective to readers wondering how their businesses measure up. The results seem to indicate that even owners of large family firms have some work to do in the governance arena. For example, the FBCG researchers found that 58% of companies with sales of $100 million or more had active boards, and only 33% of those businesses had three or more independent directors.

The comments from family business owners show how the book’s recommendations play out in the real world. A case study of how Schurz Communications of South Bend, Ind., revamped its board to include independent directors, for instance, details a two-year process. “We recognized that the old board had gaps,” James Schurz tells the authors.

Tables, exhibits and appendices provide further details to illustrate points made in the book (examples: “Getting a Board in Place in Less Than a Year,” a sample agenda for a meeting that “underutilizes” a board’s expertise; a sample board prospectus; responsibilities of various board committees). Among the most valuable chapters is the one on “Making the Most of Your Board.” There is also a chapter on the relationship between family governance and business governance.

Readers for whom corporate governance is a new concept need not worry. This exhaustive volume provides soup-to-nuts explanations of processes and procedures. Indeed, the authors delve so deeply into the basics as to suggest that at the first board meeting the chair should “express his or her pleasure at having each director on the board.”

Along with the essentials, some striking insights are included. Among them: “Many family-owned businesses are undermined by a common weakness: a tendency to undershoot their potential. Entrepreneurs may become reluctant to assume greater risk or to jeopardize any personal control when their companies grow established and successful.”

This book will be helpful to CEOs with doubts or fears about instituting an independent board, as well as to next-generation members who aspire to board service. “The role of an effective family business board is never to force or coerce,” the authors write, “but to listen, lend counsel, encourage and support, and raise questions.”






A free way to receive recognition as an American family business


Does your family business employ American workers? Do you make your products domestically? A new initiative offers a way to raise awareness of your contribution to the U.S. economy—at no cost to you.

Artwork proclaiming, “Made in USA by Family Business” is available for downloading free of charge at Business owners are welcome to use it as a banner on their websites, print it as a set of decals or incorporate it in their packaging design. The artwork can easily be scaled to accommodate a variety of size requirements.

The website is a project of the Family Business Alliance, a collaboration of several dozen family business education programs nationwide, most of which are based in universities. The idea was conceived by Ira Bryck, director of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Family Business Center.

The goal of the non-partisan effort, Bryck says, is to raise awareness of U.S. family businesses as employers of Americans. “I think they deserve some sort of special recognition and appreciation,” he says.

“There’s no doubting that many families in business together have to demonstrate certain values,” Bryck says. Among those values, he notes, are scrappiness (necessary in order to stay in business), loyalty (for example, to a domestic workforce) and commitment to quality (which is easier to communicate and maintain when both supplier and client are U.S.-based). These values, Bryck asserts, should be promoted and celebrated.

Family business owners are invited to publicize their companies on the website (also at no charge). Organizers of the initiative suggest that business owners submit a photo and a brief discussion of their commitment to producing their goods in the U.S. A survey on the site seeks business owners’ views on family businesses’ contributions to the U.S. economy. The website also provides information on Alliance members’ family business education programs.

Many entrepreneurs who employ their spouses or children consider themselves small-business owners and don’t realize they are also family business owners, Bryck says. He adds that he hopes participation in the project will get them to start thinking of their enterprises as family businesses—and to be proud of it.

Copyright 2011 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permssion from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

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Brand Survey

Family businesses are the bedrock of almost all of the world’s economies. That is a very well known fact. Less well known is that, according to numerous research studies, family firms perform better than non-family businesses. In some countries, the performance of family enterprises surpasses that of non-family companies by as much as 158% over ten years!

These outstanding achievements are often attributed to the unique competitive advantages that these firms have gained over time. Particularly, family involvement encourages long-term orientation and patience, attributes that help family firms stand above the rest.

There is, however, a deeper perspective to all of this. Successful family firms attribute their superior performance to what family business researchers call the “familiness factor.” This refers to family firms that find a productive way to harmonize business values with seemingly conflicting family values.

A typical business system, for example, emphasizes concepts like “rationality,” “competence,” “contract,” “future” and “money,” whereas a typical family system values “emotion,” “birthright,” “relationship,” “memories” and “love.” 

A strong familiness factor unites these competing and clashing values through instituting smart ownership structures, developing effective managers, nurturing experience, treasuring tacit knowledge and anchoring an authentic organizational culture.

As Grant Gordon, a fifth-generation family member of the Scottish distiller William Grant & Sons, once told the Financial Times (June 2, 2009), “There is no substitute for a strong, cohesive, self-aware family culture.” Successful family firms’ self-discipline pays off in the long run.

Privately held family companies value their ability to plan for the long term, while their publicly listed counterparts are punished by the markets for missing any quarterly target. “Our absolute priority is not to have the highest profit margin,” Franz Fehrenbach, CEO of the privately owned German industrial group Bosch, explained to the Financial Times (July 24, 2008). “To finance our growth we need to have a certain pretax profit margin of 7 to 8 percent. But we don’t need to go above that in order to improve a share price. Anything above that level we invest into securing our future development.”

A marketing paradox

But when it comes to marketing a family business, an interesting paradox emerges. On one hand, an obvious strategy is to advertise a company’s family heritage because this history lies at the root of the company’s valuable and difficult-to-copy competitive advantage. On the other hand, primarily anecdotal evidence leaves us to believe that only a small percentage of family companies actively promote this differentiating aspect to external stakeholders, e.g., customers, suppliers, future employees and investors. Most family companies do not reveal their familiness to the outside world.

Yet in these uncertain times, we suspect that many companies would like to do business with winners, outperformers and likely survivors of the economic crisis. Wouldn’t teaming up with family firms be a safe bet?

Someone who well understood the importance of marketing his family corporation was Herbert F. Johnson, Sr., the son of SC Johnson’s founder. He noted, “It’s the goodwill of people that matters most in business … just like any family.” Now with the fifth generation at the helm, this manufacturer of household brands such as Pledge and Mr. Muscle proudly includes the phrase “A Family Company” in its logo.

Measuring public perception

We can categorize all firms in a simple two-by-two matrix. On the horizontal axis, we separate companies that are family-owned or family-controlled from those that are not. On the vertical axis, firms that are perceived as family businesses are split from those that are not.

Bringing these two dimensions together, we have four categories. Companies that are correctly perceived by outsiders as either family businesses or non-family corporations are the True Positives and True Negatives.

A False Positive is a company that is perceived by the public to be a family firm but actually is not. False Negatives are family firms that are not recognized as such by the public. Only the True Positives manage to market their family business brand effectively.

Our branding test

To measure the public’s awareness of the family DNA in corporate brands, we designed a test, which was published in an IMD Tomorrow’s Challenge article in July 2009 and featured European and South Korean family and non-family companies.

We invite readers of Family Business Magazine to take the U.S. version of the test, which is available online at

The results, along with our analysis, will be presented in the Autumn 2010 issue of Family Business Magazine. We expect they will be helpful to corporate communication executives and marketing managers at family firms.


Joachim Schwass is Professor of Family Business at IMD and director of the Leading the Family Business program. Willem Smit is a research fellow at IMD, specializing in marketing strategy and branding. Lise Moeller is relationship manager at the IMD Family Business Center.



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Winter 2009 Openers

Building a family brand

Family companies can enhance their competitiveness by leveraging their family status to create a brand identity, according to research recently published in the Journal of Small Business Management. If marketed correctly, a family brand appeals to consumers, the investigators reported.

The study -- by Justin B. Craig of Bond University in Australia, Clay Dibrell of Oregon State University and Peter S. Davis of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (Journal of Small Business Management, 46[3]: 351-71, 2008) -- found that "promoting family ownership can play a substantive role in establishing a firm's appeal to customers in a manner that is unique to the family business context," the researchers wrote. "[O]ne of the advantages of family businesses that we have empirically established in this research is the signal that family ownership communicates to customers about the types of values, beliefs, and norms likely to prevail in family-owned businesses."

The investigators analyzed survey data from leaders of 218 family businesses with six to 499 employees. The results showed that building "a family-based brand identity" contributes indirectly to a company's growth and profitability. This effect occurs only if the message has a "customer-centric orientation," as opposed to a focus on the company's product attributes, the researchers noted. "[T]he real long-term benefit for the consumer lies not in the specific product or service that the family business produces or sells, but rather, it is in the perception that the family is committed to being customer-centric," Craig and colleagues wrote. "A challenge for managers seeking to change their firms' competitive orientation will be to define customers' expectations about family-brand values and to discover ways to incorporate this in their efforts directed at building better customer relationships.'

The competitive edge might be related to values "implicitly associated with family membership," such as trust, the authors wrote. "Consequently, when evaluating among alternative providers, functional attributes (e.g., size, market share dominance) may take a back seat to those reputational attributes associated with family-based branding in the purchase decision."

These findings are particularly relevant for smaller family companies with limited resources. "Lacking the substantive economies of scale and scope available to their larger brethren, small and medium-sized family businesses may be especially inclined to leverage their distinctive family name to create a form of reputational capital or family brand equity that helps enhance performance," Craig and associates noted.

Consumers' trust in family-owned brands was also explored in a recent article on, an online exchange that focuses on branding. "Customers frequently perceive family-owned brands as emblems of success and prestige," wrote author Randall Frost, "but this is also because these brands lend themselves to trust. The family name, when used as a brand, serves to reassure the customer." 

Globalization poses challenges for family business owners, who tend to think in national terms, Frost wrote. "Regardless of the economic futures and fates of family brands, the actual families behind the brands are subject to the same triumphs and tragedies in life -- just like families everywhere," he added. "Perhaps that is why consumers -- a demographic comprised of parents, children, and cousins -- relate to family brands so well."

Frost's article is available online at


Your asset strategy should consider your business

When designing an investment portfolio and considering asset allocation, many business owners fail to consider their business assets and thus overexpose their wealth to risk, noted wealth adviser Christopher G. Didier and economist Brian L. Beaulieu in a recent white paper. 

Didier is managing director of the private asset management group at Robert W. Baird & Co., headquartered in Milwaukee. Beaulieu is executive director at the Institute for Trend Research in Concord, N.H., and chief economist for Vistage International and TEC. "We find all too often that the business is ignored in wealth management planning, diminishing the benefits of diversification and creating unnecessary risk to the business owner’s wealth preservation strategy," they wrote.

Some business owners fail to consider their company as an asset because it has not been valued for sale. "To owners, and those who advise them, the portfolio becomes something separate from the business," Didier and Beaulieu wrote. Also, because business owners are their company's major decision-makers, they consider the business to be "under control" and don't believe it necessary to discuss the business with their wealth adviser. 

The authors advise business owners to create a business market index that compares their company's data against industry data and macroeconomic indicators, and then build a correlation matrix that compares the company's performance against the performance of other financial assets.

"To be fully balanced," Didier and Beaulieu wrote, "the owner would want to invest more heavily in asset classes with a lower correlation to the business and start avoiding asset classes that are more highly correlated with the business." They cited as an example an owner of a home-building company who engaged an adviser to design an investment portfolio that would behave differently from his business to protect him from the home-building industry's ups and downs. The industry has since hit a downturn, but the portfolio is helping to protect his long-term wealth.

Didier and Beaulieu noted that many business owners have invested in assets they are familiar with, such as real estate. "Unfortunately, a large component of most businesses is already significantly invested in real estate," they pointed out. "So diversifying by adding more of what you are familiar with may not be diversifying at all."

They also advise business owners to be mindful of liquidity risk. "Be sure you have ample liquidity in your investment portfolio so that you can meet any unanticipated cash needs," Didier and Beaulieu wrote. "This is particularly a concern on the downside of the business cycle when credit conditions tighten and liquidity is at a premium."        




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Managing publicity before it manages you

Most family businesses encounter publicity, good or bad, at one time or another. The trick is to capitalize on or cultivate what’s positive and avoid or at least minimize what’s negative. In other words: to plan for and manage your company’s public relations.

It’s certainly logical to dodge bad publicity, but many family businesses shun favorable notice as well.

“Family businesses are private and secretive,” observes Craig E. Aronoff, the author of a college textbook on public relations and principal of the Family Business Consulting Group in Marietta, Ga.

Unless they are family-controlled public companies hoping to get buyers for their stock or they deal directly with consumers, family firms generally “would rather not be noticed at all by potential competitors or others,” Aronoff says. “They actually see a fair amount of value in not getting publicity.”

One downside is that many family businesses aren’t prepared to manage a crisis that can drag the company down or even destroy it. And if the crisis hits the media, says Richard L. Narva, partner at the Roseview Group, a Boston company that advises entrepreneurial families, “you start to lose key executives. You start to lose key customers. The stock price [of a publicly held family firm] can plummet. You can end up with lawsuits from shareholders. It can be a nightmare.”

Consider the predicament that Pete Coors, vice chairman of Molson Coors Brewing Co., got himself into in May 2006. On his way back from a wedding, the beer executive was arrested on a drunken-driving charge near his home in Golden, Colo.

How did Coors handle the situation? He put the incident behind him as quickly as he could. He issued a statement of apology and later pleaded guilty to driving while impaired, a lesser charge than the driving-under-the-influence count that had been filed against him. He was sentenced to 24 hours of community service and ordered to attend alcohol education courses, and his driver’s license was suspended for three months.

The Roberts family, the force behind Philadelphia-based cable giant Comcast Corp., almost passed up an opportunity to earn favorable publicity. Members of the family, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, are “notoriously private, and charitable gifts are high on the list of topics they rarely discuss.” Late last year, however, the Robertses made a gift of $15 million to the University of Pennsylvania to help launch a $144 million center for a revolutionary treatment of cancer patients. A factor in their decision was that Aileen Roberts, the wife of Comcast’s CEO, Brian L. Roberts, had been undergoing treatment for breast cancer at the university’s hospital.

Ordinarily, the Robertses would have kept quiet about their gift. But Penn president Amy Gutmann persuaded them to go public with it on the grounds that doing so would inspire other donations.

The result was a front-page article in the Inquirer. It featured photos of Brian Roberts; his father, Ralph; and a beaming Aileen, who had recently finished radiation therapy and wore a stylish scarf to cover her bald head.

Comcast frequently receives negative media coverage, particularly when it raises cable rates or when its customer service falters. But the story of Aileen Roberts’ illness and the family’s gift humanized the company; its chief executive; and his father, Comcast’s founder. The publicity reminded area residents that Comcast plays a positive role in the community and offered an alternative to the image of a heartless corporate behemoth.

One family firm that courts good publicity is Donald A. Gardner Architects Inc., a collection of small companies centered on creating house plans for sale to builders and individuals.

Angela G. Santerini, president and daughter of the founder, finds that good public relations opens doors for the Greenville, S.C., company and enhances its bottom line. She says the 60-employee business promotes itself in a variety of ways, including “creating a superior product,” taking on leadership roles in the community, positioning itself as an expert in its field by submitting articles to industry magazines, and being involved in philanthropy.

Even if your name is not a nationally recognized one like Coors or Roberts, it’s still important to address public relations issues. Your company might be the largest employer in a small town, a factor that renders your family of special interest to the members of the community. Like the preacher’s kid, your children will be watched more carefully than most for signs of bad behavior. Actions your company takes will be scrutinized for their effect on employees and the community. The support you give to the community by way of philanthropy or leadership will be measured and found generous or wanting.

The key for family businesses is to make a concerted effort to manage communications to protect and enhance the image of both the business and the family. Here are some additional ideas for doing so:

1. Identify your constituents. Family businesses have many constituencies, and the general public may be the least among them. Constituents may include other businesses, shareholders, vendors, securities analysts, bankers, employees and potential employees, family members, outside directors and the government. Information received by any of these groups about your company constitutes publicity, even if it doesn’t reach the popular media.

2. Develop a public relations/publicity policy. Your family should determine how to present its business to its constituents and decide whether prominence in the media is important to it. The policy should make clear who can talk to the media and under what circumstances. Aronoff says he has worked with a number of families who have gotten upset when a relative has told the media something that the family didn’t want said, or has taken too much credit or received “an inordinate share of the limelight.”

3. Do a public relations audit. Learn where you stand with constituents. Survey employees, customers and others. Gather clips about your company from newspapers and other publications. Do an Internet search for your company and family names to see what the buzz is about you in cyberspace. The information you gather will help you determine where you are strong as well as where you are vulnerable. If you aren’t happy about what you uncover, you can begin to take remedial action.

4. Establish a strategic public relations plan. Aronoff recommends a plan that covers “offense” by outlining how publicity can help you realize your goals and also covers “defense” to help you avoid the kind of publicity that can hinder success.

5. Be sure that your crisis management plans include a communications component. Crisis plans specify what action is to be taken in the event of catastrophe, such as the unexpected death or incapacitation of your CEO, having to file a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, or a health or safety scare surrounding a product made by your company.

A company can take effective action to deal with a crisis, but “the failure to communicate the wisdom and effectiveness of the strategy undertaken in a crisis can completely defeat the utility of the actions taken,” says Richard Narva, who was a practicing lawyer before he became a family business consultant. (For more information on crisis communication strategies, see article on page 66.)

6. Consider hiring a public relations professional. Donald A. Gardner Architects initially outsourced its public relations function, but in 1995, the company decided that having an in-house marketing communications coordinator would be more effective. The result was not only a savings in time and money, says Santerini, but also “the creation of a true advocate for our business”—someone who understood the company from the inside out and who had a better grip on the company image.

The public relations function can originate with the president and, as the company grows, be shared with a marketing manager or human resources manager, Santerini says. But after a company grows to more than 40 employees, she recommends hiring a professional to do the job.

Take steps to ensure the person you bring on board understands what constitutes a good story and how to approach editors and broadcast producers. Today’s public relations specialists also need a solid understanding of how to use the Internet. Good bets are individuals who have earned the designation “Accredited in Public Relations” (APR), recognized by many professional public relations organizations. Former journalists, more plentiful in these days of huge newspaper layoffs, can also be desirable candidates.

7. Understand the public relations power of your workforce. Your employees are the “face” of the company in everything they do, from the way they answer the telephone to how successfully they meet clients’ needs.

8. Be squeaky clean. Some family business owners bring bad publicity on themselves with what Narva calls “self-inflicted damage.” John Rigas, the founder of Adelphia Communications Corp., once a large cable company based in Coudersport, Pa., and his son, Timothy, were convicted of conspiracy, securities fraud and bank fraud in 2004. Both are free on bail pending appeal. Another son pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to ten months of home confinement. The family has endured damning headlines around the country. The lesson? Don’t sabotage yourself.

9. Ignore what’s irrelevant. Suppose a distant relative robs a bank and his last name is the same as the name on the door of your family business. Some reporter somewhere is sure to make a connection to your company, even though the relative has nothing to do with your business. Try not to waste time or energy countering the publicity. Remember: Even the Hilton Hotels Corp. cannot possibly foil all the smirking publicity generated by Paris Hilton.

Follow the same “roll-with-the-punches” attitude toward most gossip. If your family is well known or you’re perceived as wealthy, don’t be surprised if the media photograph you and your spouse at an important fund-raising gala or comment on such topics as what family members have been seen at what hot nightclub. If you believe the coverage is libelous, however, get your lawyer’s advice on how to proceed.

Craig Aronoff offers one other caution: Monitor younger family members. That especially means making sure they aren’t using the Internet in ways that can embarrass themselves, your company, or your family. On MySpace and other sites, he says, kids may brag about drug use or tell lies about themselves “in an effort to puff themselves up to others of their age. And those things are leaking out into many other venues, which can be quite dangerous.”

10. Don’t whitewash. Good public relations doesn’t mean manipulating facts or glossing over the truth in order to look good.

Good public relations involves trust building, not spin control. Analysts cite Johnson & Johnson’s handling of a product-tampering case as one of the best all-time examples of managing bad publicity. In 1982, some bottles of J&J’s Extra-Strength Tylenol were tampered with, and seven people died from ingesting capsules laced with cyanide. J&J recalled all Tylenol products and told the public not to use them, thus publicly putting customer safety before profit. Despite predictions that Tylenol would never sell again, J&J’s behavior earned the public’s trust, and Tylenol continues to be one of the top-selling over-the-counter drugs in the U.S.

Sharon Nelton has been a public relations specialist for three organizations and has been writing about family business for more than 20 years.

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On a funeral home's anniversary, a celebration of life

In 2006, our family business, Wm. Sullivan & Son Funeral Directors, marked its 100th anniversary. As the special year approached, we decided to celebrate the occasion by showcasing our commitment to the metro Detroit communities we serve.

Wm. Sullivan & Son Funeral Home is the oldest business in Royal Oak, Mich. We have a long history of active involvement in greater Royal Oak as well as in Utica, Mich. William Sullivan founded the business in 1906. William’s son James joined his father in 1932 and in 1939 relocated the funeral home to its present location. James’ sons William and John came into the business as licensed funeral directors in the 1960s, and son-in-law Raymond Lope entered the family business in 1973. The fourth generation, Michael Lope, joined in 2006, our 100th anniversary year. The Royal Oak home has undergone three expansions; the Utica branch was added in 1969. To date, we have conducted more than 30,000 funeral services.

Although people might not normally think of a funeral home as a place for celebration, it is the Wm. Sullivan family tradition to make the funeral service another opportunity to celebrate the lives of our loved ones. We wanted to emphasize that message in our anniversary year. That’s why we kicked off the festivities by cosponsoring Royal Oak’s Holiday Magic Parade in November 2005.

A time for reflection

Our 100th anniversary offered a great opportunity for us to reexamine the family business. We took time to think about how we wanted to move forward. Our family brainstormed about how to best approach the celebration and considered many ideas. We decided to become more proactive in communicating with the communities we serve.

As a first step, we created an anniversary logo and tagline that conveyed our family tradition: “Celebrating 100 Years: From Our Family to Yours.” We used the anniversary logo and tagline consistently in all our communications throughout the year. We also used archived files and photos from past anniversaries as the foundation for our marketing materials.

Next, we planned a calendar of events. In choosing among possible activities, we had a simple goal: to ensure the regions we serve would recognize our celebration and understand the role we’ve played in the community. We wanted people to take notice.

In 2005, we were asked to cosponsor Royal Oak’s annual Holiday Magic Parade, a televised event presented by the Downtown Development Authority. We were saluted as Royal Oak’s oldest family-owned business, and the mayor gave our family the keys to the city. Eleven family members participated in the parade. We were thrilled to play a major role in an event that brought joy to the community.

We were also a sponsor of Royal Oak’s Veterans War Memorial Monument Relocation Project and participated in the rededication ceremony on Sept. 30, 2006. We helped coordinate and facilitate the manufacturing and engraving of the memorial’s bronze plaques and granite monuments, securing a cost savings of several thousand dollars.

Early in the 100th year, we helped to create a memorial to honor Utica’s volunteer fire department, where John Sullivan served as a volunteer firefighter from 1969 to 1975. The village of Utica’s first siren, purchased in December 1925 and put into service in January 1926, was refurbished and moved from atop the former City Hall. The siren was affixed on a quartz slab donated by Wm. Sullivan & Son and placed on a permanent memorial in front of the Utica fire department building.

In honor of Veterans Day 2006, our Utica location dedicated its new flagpole to the veterans of Macomb County, Mich. U.S. Rep. Candice Miller spoke at the ceremony and presented a flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol as well as a proclamation honoring our 100th anniversary. The mayor of Utica and the president of the Vietnam Veterans of Utica also spoke. The color guard from Selfridge Air Force Base was present at the ceremony, which included music provided by the local high school band. Our Royal Oak location also received a proclamation honoring our anniversary from U.S. Rep. Sander Levin.

Creating awareness

In 2005, we heard about a small business in Northern Michigan that had commemorated its 75th anniversary with a local newspaper supplement. This sparked the idea that Wm. Sullivan & Son could do something similar—or even larger in scope.

Leveraging our family’s long-standing relationships with our local newspapers, we asked the publishers of the Royal Oak Daily Tribune and the Macomb Daily to consider a 100th-anniversary supplement. We gathered information from our 50th-anniversary celebration, old family photos and interesting facts on how the family business evolved over the past 100 years and how the legacy continues. The papers also drew on their own archives to create an outstanding keepsake detailing the history of Wm. Sullivan & Son Funeral Directors, which included advertisements and messages of support from other local businesses.

We also worked with a public relations agency to help spread the word about our anniversary. More than 12 articles appeared in local daily, weekly and business publications about our events and our business, and we were mentioned on Detroit talk radio stations.

At our two locations, we created lobby displays to showcase our history and distributed the 100th-anniversary newspaper supplement to funeral home visitors. On our website, we showcased historical photographs and a timeline. We also made presentations to the Women’s Club of Royal Oak and other community groups.

Celebrating every day

In an age when many local funeral homes are being acquired by large corporations, we are excited to continue our tradition as a leading funeral service provider dedicated to attending to the needs of families in a personal, caring and distinguished manner.

In recognition of our innovative and creative anniversary celebration, Wm. Sullivan & Son was one of nine funeral homes that received a “Best of the Best Award” from the National Funeral Directors Association at its annual convention in October 2006.

Through our outreach, many community members have learned more about the history of our family business. Thousands of them watched our family as we received the keys to the city in the Royal Oak parade. After articles appeared in the local papers about our events, we heard from families and local Chamber of Commerce members who had read the stories. We also received recognition from political leaders for our long-standing commitment to the community.

Most important, we achieved our goal of ensuring that the communities we served would recognize our celebration and understand the role we’ve played in the region. We look forward to continuing our tradition of serving families for many years to come and will starting planning for the next anniversary celebration soon.

Brothers-in-law Ray Lope and John Sullivan are third-generation co-owners of Wm. Sullivan & Son Funeral Directors in Royal Oak, Mich., and Utica, Mich. (

Tips for celebrating a special anniversary

• Set a budget, but be flexible if an interesting opportunity comes along.

• Engage marketing and public relations professionals to help formulate and execute a strategic plan.

• Work with public officials to have the anniversary celebration recognized.

• Think outside the box; develop ideas that will be noticed.

• Plan a variety of events that will attract attention, and use public relations to seek exposure from local media.

• Consider updating your corporate logo and advertising to tout the anniversary.

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Venturing into the blogosphere

Mayfield Dairy Farms, which got its start when my grandfather T.B. Mayfield used a horse-drawn cart to deliver milk to dairy customers in McMinn County, Tenn., has always strived to be an innovator. When my grandmother’s friends suggested that she start selling her homemade cottage cheese on the milk route, she did, and it was a success. In 1920, my grandfather purchased the area’s first milk-pasteurizing plant. In 1922, he bought an ice cream plant and began making Mayfield Ice Cream.

The second-generation owners—my father, C. Scott Mayfield, and my uncle Thomas Mayfield—sought more efficient ways to increase production when they took the helm after returning from Navy service in World War II. They mortgaged the family farm to invest in the Southeast’s first modern milk plant, which they opened in 1950 in Athens, Tenn. Staying true to their father’s entrepreneurial spirit, in 1955 my dad and uncle purchased the nation’s first vacreator, a vacuum processor that removes unwanted flavors and odors from milk. Many other dairies have since abandoned its use in an effort to cut costs, but we believe it’s our key to producing great-tasting milk. Today Mayfield is one of only two dairies in the country that still uses a vacuum heat process to pasteurize milk.

Another Mayfield innovation is our trademark yellow jugs, which are designed to deflect light. Exposure to sunlight, even for a short time, can have a negative effect on the quality and taste of milk. The opaque container protects Mayfield Milk from loss of flavor and nutrients.

Today, my cousin Rob and I oversee Mayfield. Like our grandfather and fathers, we are passionate about our company’s products and service. We are also dedicated to maintaining Mayfield Dairy Farms’ reputation as an innovator in the dairy industry. We have been a subsidiary of Dean Foods Co. since 1990, but we strive to maintain our family culture.

Working closely with the community is also very important to us. We pride ourselves in being close to our consumers and listening to their input, which is why we are constantly looking for opportunities to get consumer feedback. From the days when my grandmother’s friends urged her to market the cottage cheese she made in her kitchen, we have developed products based on comments and suggestions from friends and acquaintances.

To encourage this valuable feedback, we launched The Dairy Blog ( in June 2006. The blog (short for “web log”) is a website where members of our team can comment on our products and other topics; its interactive format allows customers and community members to respond to our entries. Our blog postings include personal stories about the history of Mayfield, product and nutrition information, and recipes.

The blog’s purpose is twofold; to share news from various aspects of our business and to create an atmosphere that makes consumers feel comfortable establishing a dialogue with us. We are giving them the opportunity to ask questions, voice their opinions and learn more about the day-to-day operations of Mayfield.

When we started the blog, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into, but the fact that my spell check didn’t recognize “blog” as a correctly spelled word made me feel a little better. After several months, I’ve realized that it’s a great way for Mayfield to learn more about our consumers’ opinions on our products, our company and our industry. Occasionally, I’ll post a question for blog readers to answer. For example, I asked for feedback on whether we should introduce a skim or 2% version of our Mayfield NuTrish Milk, a lowfat product that contains yogurt cultures to aid digestion.

Readers of the blog have asked me questions, as well. Some have asked where they can find their favorite Mayfield Ice Cream flavor. One person asked me to study my family history to determine if the Mayfields in Canada are related to the Mayfields in Tennessee.

A team of bloggers

To give consumers a look at all aspects of our company, The Dairy Blog has a diverse team of authors representing the various branches of our extended Mayfield family. My cousin Rob, who is vice president, blogs on the site, along with members of our product team and our executive team.

Our company recognizes that we could not have gotten where we are today without the dedication of our employees. Currently, we have a staff of nearly 2,000, who work to serve nine states: eastern and central Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, portions of North Carolina, a small area of Mississippi that borders Alabama and parts of Kentucky and Virginia that border Tennessee. In addition to our Athens, Tenn., facility, we have plants in Birmingham, Ala., and Braselton, Ga.

Mayfield Visitor Centers are located at our Braselton and Athens plants, offering consumers a behind-the-scenes look at the production of Mayfield Milk and Ice Cream. Visitors are able to tour the plant, learn what makes Mayfield the Southeast’s leading brand of milk and ice cream, browse through our gift shop and, of course, eat Mayfield Ice Cream at our parlor. Representatives from our visitor centers are among the team members who post on The Dairy Blog. They’ve described recent factory tours they’ve led and the people who have visited—an average of 50,000 a year, including guests from as far away as Italy, the Czech Republic, Russia and South Africa.

The Mayfield Mom Squad also blogs on our site. Mayfield Moms are the most elite group of people who will ever serve you a scoop of ice cream or sample of milk! The team of advocates of the Mayfield brand is made up of women who are energetic, enthusiastic, health-conscious mothers, generally with children in the home. We like to think of them as our community ambassadors. They are trained to promote Mayfield products to our target audience and serve more than a million consumers per year. Chances are, if you live in these markets, they’ve handed you a sample of Mayfield Ice Cream or Milk in your local grocery store.

Our bloggers also include a guest author, Michael Zemel, Ph.D., a calcium researcher at the University of Tennessee and executive director of America on the Move in Tennessee, the state arm of the national non-profit organization whose mission is to improve health and quality of life by promoting healthful eating and active living. And our consumer affairs specialist is on board to answer questions and posts the most frequently asked questions so consumers can easily find an answer. All of our authors work together to give visitors to our site a good sense of our culture. We want The Dairy Blog to be a useful resource for anyone needing information related to Mayfield and to dairy products in general.

Thanks to this team of bloggers, The Dairy Blog is on the right track. In a Sept. 20, 2006, article in the Knoxville News Sentinel, Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association, gave The Dairy Blog an A+ rating. “The best company blogs have an authentic voice with real people talking about topics of genuine interest to them,” Cox told the newspaper. “The worst are little more than corporate press releases in a blog-like format.” One thing Cox liked about The Dairy Blog, he said, was that “there are stories in here that are not about the products but about the people who make the products. That’s smart.” The Dairy Blog was inundated with hits when Glenn Reynolds, proprietor of the influential, posted a link to our blog on his site. (Reynolds was also quoted in the Knoxville News Sentinel article.)

If you are debating whether your business would benefit from a blog, I encourage you to seek counsel. I did not fully understand blogs, but I’m glad our PR agency helped us recognize the value of this newer method of consumer interaction.

The Mayfields have never been afraid to try something new. The processes we apply in production and the methods of consumer communication we use all reflect the Mayfield spirit of innovation. Although I didn’t fully understand the blogosphere, I recognized the benefits it lends to the company. I want to continue to seek out and foster these relationships with consumers, and the blog is certainly working for us. Who knows, we may find in the next few years that a new communication method is best, and we’ll want to be sure to ride that wave, too. Until then, I’ll see you at The Dairy Blog!

Scottie Mayfield is the third-generation president of Mayfield Dairy Farms in Athens, Tenn. (

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Finding gold down the hole

When the Penn family opened their Kentucky country store more than 150 years ago, they bartered in hides, chickens and eggs and sold clothing, crackers and horehound candy. Penn's Store survived the Civil War, two World Wars and the Great Depression, but the region's recent shift away from an agrarian society may be its most difficult economic challenge to date. What has fifth-generation owner Jeanne Penn Lane done to keep the store alive? She built its first outhouse, of course!

Penn's Store is a portal to rural Kentucky's past. It claims to be the oldest country store owned and operated continuously by one family west of the Appalachian Mountains. The store, located in its original building near the town of Gravel Switch, is unrestored from its weathered wood exterior to the tin-clad plank floor. Customers gather by the coal stove to take the chill off their bones.

When tobacco was king, Penn's was the heart of the community—a place where people gathered to discuss local and national events. Now the population of surrounding Marion County, about 18,500, is among the lowest Lane has ever seen. The population decline began after World War II when industrialization took men into the city for factory work. The '70s brought new customers (“we called them hippies,” says Lane), but by the mid-'80s many of the landowners had become absentee, living most of the year in Florida or New York.

Tobacco once was “the largest cash crop off the land in Kentucky,” says Lane. Now, she laments, “basically there's very little farming in this area.” Lane co-owns the store with her daughter but is solely responsible for the daily operations.

Locals today treat the store like a “convenient mart,” buying most of their groceries in town, while tourist business accounts for 60% of Penn's Store receipts.

Until 1992, the old store had never had a restroom facility, and female shoppers “didn't want to go to the bushes,” Lane explains. A new breed of customer—visiting the store out of curiosity—necessitated a restroom.

Lane spoke to a local lumberyard about building some type of outhouse. “Then this divine thing happened,” she recalls. “I knew we needed to dedicate it and have a party. I knew who to invite. It just kind of grew.” When the press caught wind of it, the story spread. Lane discovered a world of outhouse enthusiasts.

The Outhouse Blowout, featuring outhouse racing, was so successful that she decided to make it an annual event. Teams of four people push or pull an enclosed structure down a 350-foot course while a fifth team member rides the “throne” inside. “Even a Port-a-John was used once,” says Lane, who describes the event as a “poor man's NASCAR race.”

Attendance averages between 2,000 and 2,500, exceeding 4,000 when “the weather is absolutely gorgeous,” she says. Sales of commemorative T-shirts and outhouse memorabilia boost Penn's bottom line on the day of the race.

Penn's maintains an inventory of staples, but its specialty is memories—ensuring that this country store will remain flush for another generation.

Sally M. Snell is a writer based in Topeka, Kan.

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Company histories offer valuable business lessons

Family businesses deserve a special role in the corporate world. According to a September 2003 report in Family Business Review, family firms accounted for 59% of the U.S. gross domestic product and employed 77 million people, or 58% of the U.S. work force, in the year 2000. Family-owned companies tend to have more loyal employees, a greater level of clarity about expectations, and a higher level of growth and investment.

Based on their collective successes, family businesses can teach many valuable lessons about management, decision making, leadership, innovation and business philosophy. By documenting and articulating its culture of vision and growth—and its legacy of dedication and hard work—a family company can help others better understand the lessons learned from its past.

Bottom-line impact

A family company that initiates a history project can gain more than the opportunity to educate others—it's likely to improve its own bottom line as well. Organizations that reach milestones, celebrate successes, plan for transition or embark on new initiatives generally have important stories to share. These anecdotes, when put into historical context, have the power to inspire, excite and support those vital to a company's purpose. Revisiting a company's best practices—its innovations, challenges and successes—is especially valuable when setting a course for the future.

Many companies commission historical publications to mark a special landmark, such as a 50th anniversary or the evolution of a particular product or brand. Family businesses might consider taking on documentation projects at other periods as well—for example, prior to a leadership transition, merger or key acquisition.

The process of generating a corporate history can be enlightening and valuable and can generate material useful throughout the company:

• Sales professionals gain greater access to the company story and heritage and thus are better able to present a consistent message to customers.

• A document that encapsulates the corporate philosophies and culture can be useful for employee recruitment. The text can also offer current employees a better understanding of how company leaders envision using their resources for future growth.

• Marketing and communications efforts benefit from the volume of interviews and one-on-one feedback that is central to the process. The corporate history can help marketing staff to effectively reach the company's key audiences, both internally and externally. In many situations, they learn nuggets of information that become central to their company's core messages.

• Executives and leaders get a synthesized version of the company's best practices and defined areas of expertise for use in strategic planning, designing new initiatives or examining new opportunities.

For family businesses, history/culture projects provide opportunities to define and articulate an organization's uniqueness, the benefits of family ownership, the particular values of organizational leaders and the special strengths that have contributed to success. At the same time, employees get a better understanding of how the past and future guide current leaders, and feel welcomed into the family circle as valued participants.

In some cases, growth means bringing in managers from outside the family and the company to provide guidance and leadership. When fears of bureaucracy or dilution of family values are valid, culture projects—which emphasize storytelling as a means to communicate information and illustrate values—can help to keep everyone connected and involved.

Finally, history and culture projects promote the long-term perspective of business in a world that seems so influenced by short-term factors. Family businesses have held their own thanks to a more patient model of growth. The family legacies behind these successes can be articulated and captured in ways that are highly valuable to current and future users of that information.

Yvonne Hundshamer is president of Blue Grotto Inc., a Minnesota business that works with organizations to document culture and values, celebrate milestones and articulate vision (

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Your company's story: How do you tell it?

During the 20th century, Extraco Corporation had grown from a family-owned cotton warehousing company to become the largest privately owned bank between Dallas and San Antonio, with 13 financial centers and 535 employees in central Texas. As Extraco approached its centennial in 2002, president and CEO S. Boyce Brown knew the company had reached an important juncture. In an era when most businesses had failed within their first 20 years, Extraco had exhibited extraordinary stability and longevity.

To commemorate Extraco's achievements, Brown commissioned our firm to chronicle the company's history—its values, its culture, its successes and challenges.

“I felt it important to document and pay tribute to our past leaders and rich family heritage,” Brown says. “A written history of our first 100 years allows us to share our story with employees, business associates, family and friends.”

What to include; where to start?

The task of chronicling the life and breadth of a family's business may appear daunting at first. Some business owners maintain well-ordered files dating to the company's founding, while others may have mere scraps of historical information scattered in boxes and drawers.

When Brandt Consolidated, a family-owned agricultural fertilizer company based in Illinois, decided to chronicle 50 years of business, our client Rick Brandt knew he had a jump start on the process. “Luckily, we have a live-in historian, my aunt, who has done a great job of documenting events through the years—saving pictures, keepsakes, etc.,” Brandt says. “She was well prepared to take on this project.”

Business owners should provide the writer with any documents that they believe will help tell the company's story, including:

• Board meeting minutes.

• Official memos and company directives.

• Newspaper clippings.

• Annual reports.

• Official company photographs.

• Personal letters and family photographs.

• Awards and commemorations of important milestones.

Less obvious but equally telling items, particularly those dating to a company's early days, help create context for the story and flesh out otherwise sketchy details. These include posters, placards or handbills, old newspaper advertisements and even receipts and itemized bills of sale.

A researcher/writer will get this process started by meeting with a business owner and other principals to discuss important events and issues in the organization's history and help the family determine what is needed. In addition to leafing through written materials, a writer should be prepared to search through local repositories, such as a historical society, university archive or newspaper collection. The writer can help refresh family members' memories by organizing events into a chronology and developing an outline to confirm that significant topics will be included.

Whose voice to hear?

It's important for your company history to include reflections from a diverse chorus of people. That list may include anyone who has contributed to the success of the company, from the CEO to the unheralded, behind-the-scenes worker.

Honoring employees was an important reason why Brandt Consolidated invested in a company history, according to Rick Brandt. “It has built pride and demonstrated stability with everyone in the organization,” he says. “Many were honored [to contribute], and had stories to tell about their relationships and memories. The book certainly preserves the stories and images of our founding and most of the important events and turning points through the first 50 years.“

Brandt notes that the book has helped to supplement presentations because it provides an overview of the company. “It definitely captures our values and culture, which is strongly portrayed, as we are a family company that recognizes each of our employees' families, too.”

John Myers is the founder of Heritage Publishers, Phoenix, Ariz., which has been creating custom books for clients around the country since 1986 and provides editorial, design and printing/binding/shipping services (

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