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by Phyllis Barr

Corporate Culture Marketing

 by Barr Consulting Services

New York, NY



For further information:



 “How to Capture Memories with Oral History Interviews”


As I’ve discussed in previous newsletters, you can leverage your company’s history in a number of ways. Oral History interviews are one of them. Why? They can:

  • Fill in the gaps in the written records;
  • Be used in presentations;
  • Excerpts can be added to a website;
  • Be included in a book;
  • Help answer questions or solve "mysteries";
  • Be used in marketing and public relations programs;  and
  • Help in the planning of an anniversary celebration of a company, brand or not-for-profit.


Important Note for Nonprofits” below re funding.


What if you don’t have all the information you need for various projects? The written records of what a company/organization has done and how it has functioned often leave out information so the history is incomplete. What capturing memories can do is not only fill in the gaps, but give the "back story" to decision making about policies, procedures, stands taken, actions, etc. Interviews can also add the views and opinions of individuals which may not be in the written records.


How to start an Oral History Program


1. Look at your written records, examine them for gaps, ask long-time staff what is missing, talk to other companies/organizations that have conducted such programs,and ask about the benefits to them AND meet with an Oral Historian;


2. To do find an Oral Historian, contact the Oral History Association or a college or university near you.


3. Decide who will be interviewed. For example, I have interviewed Board members, staff, and consumers.


4. Regarding in what order to interview people: sadly, this sometimes has to be done on the basis of age, health and if someone's memory is failing. This may sound harsh, but it is realistic.


5. Contact lawyers to draw up an Oral History Legal Agreement form regarding ownership and copyright of the transcripts and CD or DVD or audio tapes or video tapes. This is VITAL. Most Oral Historians have basic forms which companies/organizations can adapt.


6. Once an Oral Historian is chosen, these are the step to take:


First, decide on the format: CD? DVD? "old-fashioned" audio or visual tape? and then these are the steps that need to be taken:


a. Decide who will be interviewed, as noted above;

b. Decide on order, as noted above.

c. Research the people to be interviewed and the company/organization;

d,  Developed questions and topics. This is usually done with/by Oral Historian;

e,. Contact interviews;

f. Give them lists of questions and topics. These should reflect the "role" each played or plays in the company/organization.


Note: Some interviews are not conducted until after people retire; others while people still work at the company/organization. I usually interview people who have been with a company/organization for at least 5 years.


g. Set up interviews.

h. Interviews;


 Note: it is best to take a break during an interview after about 1 1/2 hours. Interviewing is intense for the interviewer and interviewee.Interview can last from 1 1/2 hours, tro 3 hours to multiple sessions.


i. Have interview transcribed. There are people who specialize in this.

j. The the Oral Historian proofreads interviews.

k. Give a copy of transcript to interviewee for review.

l. The Oral Historian then creates a summary of interview and subject and people indices;

m. Oral History Legal Agreement is signed;

n. Hard copy of interview and  CDs, DVDs, tapes, etc. should be stored in archival boxes in a room with constant temperature if possible. Give a copy to interviewee.


One important issue is when an interview will be open for researchers to hear, see and read and who will have access and when. In some cases, they are only open to some staff; in other instances to some researchers. There are various options. This should be covered in Oral History Legal Agreement.


In my experience, some people want the interview closed for a fixed amount of time such as ten years or until they die. Others do not care.


I have conducted over 90 interviews and they have provided information that could not have been obtained elsewhere and led me to other people who had even more information. They solved "mysteries." They are filled with insights and new ways of looking at policies, events, people, etc.


Note for not-for-profits, If money is an issue, I suggest starting an "Adopt a Memory Program." Find people to donate to a fund to "adopt" people's memories and preserve them for those who come after. People might even want to "adopt" their own memory.


Historically yours,





Phyllis Barr, President




Corporate Culture Marketing by
Barr Consulting Services
& The Corporate Acculturation Management Practice


Phone: 212-765-6968


Corporate Culture Marketing assists
companies with leveraging the history
and heritage of a company, brand or
not-for-profit as a marketing or fundraising tool.


It specializes in leveraging anniversary
celebrations as a marketing or fundraising tool.


Services: Consulting; Research; Editing;
Writing: Curating; Creating Knowledge
Banks;  Conducting Oral History interviews; Assisting
companies with corporate culture clash after
a merger.
























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