Repository Profile - Coca-Cola Company

Old Facts in New Packaging: Making Corporate History Business Relevant

In a corporate setting, archives and anniversaries are a strategic pairing. A case in point would be the Coca-Cola Company's recent celebration of 100 years of operation in Latin America. In 1906 the Coca-Cola Company began its bottling operations in Panama. So nearly a century later, in late 2005, it came to pass that Rodrigo Calderon, Public Affairs and Communications Director for Latin America, and I sat in Coca-Cola Corporate Archivist Phil Mooney's office to discuss plans to mark this upcoming occasion.

The initial discussions during this exploratory meeting included many of the traditional ways in which the Archives could advance the Centennial: exhibits, brochures, research, and reprints of historic photographs. These are roles that typify what management generally expects of any corporate archives, and in fact we do these all the time at the Coca-Cola Archives.

But a major goal in celebrating the Latin American Centennial was to highlight Coca-Cola's positive contributions in the region. This was driven by the fact that the Coca-Cola brand image has suffered in the press there the last few years. Another objective we discussed was how we could change our more routine archival offerings in order to make it relevant for the local markets. We decided that we would try to create something totally different.

First, the Latin group recommended that we activate our art collection by sponsoring a modern art contest in Panama where we would make the company's icons available to the artists, and would create a joint display of the winning entries with many of the original classic paintings. The exhibition was scheduled for October 2006.

Second, we agreed to work with the Latin America Business Unit to create a history booklet. But not just any booklet - it was to be something completely unlike anything we'd ever done before. The booklet would be divided into the five areas of corporate emphasis over the last century: conserving the environment; how we help our customers profit, enhancing our partners and our employees, and expanding our portfolio of brands to meet local needs and taste. By taking this approach we would be able to cite examples of how Coca-Cola had consistently been a positive force in the local community rather than a feared US multi-national. For example, we highlighted that Coca-Cola Argentina began distributing polio vaccines in 1952 and all of their promotions that year were focused on health. Also, our bottler in Tampico was the only source of drinking water after 1966's Hurricane Helga, and our Brazilian group developed a soy-based nutritional beverage which could be given to the kids at school and would provide all the daily requirements of minerals and vitamins needed for good nutrition.

I presented an overview of the booklet at a meeting of all the Latin American Public Affairs managers in Panama in May 2006. The format was approved and in a rare occurrence for archives-led projects the number of copies requested in both Spanish and English was increased substantially.

We worked with our Latin colleagues to identify a historian, Dr. Julio Moreno, Chair of Latin American Studies at the University of San Francisco, to write the text. We also proposed that Dr. Moreno and I conduct a series of oral histories with selected partners, customers, bottlers and employees to give a more human angle to the stories. Ultimately, we conducted more than 50 interviews throughout Central and Latin America. These oral histories became a part of the archives and serve as a lasting legacy of the project.

The response to the booklet was tremendous. The Director of the Central Latin Public Affairs and Communications team said that the book was the perfect opportunity to tell the Coca-Cola Latin America story the way we see it, after years of having let other less friendly people tell their unauthorized versions of our "story." The booklet was used in the press packs for the Centennial activities in Panama, and that combined with the art exhibition generated more than a million dollars worth of positive publicity.

By strategically using both the collections and the skill set of the archives to highlight the longstanding beneficial role the company had played in Latin America, we were able to become an active partner in a project that benefited the entire division. In the process, we also demonstrated that the archives was more that just a repository of "old stuff" ... it was a legitimate business asset.



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