Reimagine your Annual Report and Turn a Task into a Treasure

Annual Reports don’t have to be a drag.

In fact, many organizations have changed their approach, using great content to highlight their year in review.

Consider what makes the most successful reports shine. While reporting goals are not about winning awards, we’ve learned that the best of the bunch (those actually winning awards) pay close attention to:

  • communications and style
  • operations and sustainability
  • strategy and leadership
  • figures and financials
  • investors and governance

Let’s break this down a bit and take a closer look at how these attributes can work harder for you and bring your annual report to life. And, quite possibly breathe a little more inspiration into pulling it all together. (As you read on, for now, set aside the letter from CEO, financials, etc. We will come back to these elements (often both essential and mandatory)). 

A small increase in effort can yield big results.

Your annual report is an honest way to extend your mission and share successes with current investors and prospects. It’s worth stating what might be obvious here — annual reporting is a “baked in” reoccurring opportunity to present your stories as a small annual awareness campaign. So, if you have to prepare one, why not use it to extend your success stories and increase future rewards?

You’ve got a brand style, right? Be sure your report is true to how people understand you. And a marketing strategy? Help reinforce messaging, imagery and campaigns that might be running alongside this report. Many organizations now focus on the “customer journey.” You can time the presentation of your report’s content to be delivered at a moment that works with other items on your marketing calendar.

Here’s where to start:

  • Focus on collecting your stories. What type of effort might be required to pull it all together? Who will help? You can’t start soon enough, especially if you need to get several colleagues to sign off on it. Gathering your best content in a timely manner will be the hardest part of getting something great produced.
  • Choose stories that best highlight your mission, your people and your values. Remember — it’s quality over quantity. You only want to present stories that support a positive outlook. If you feel that it was a light year (on success stories), consider blowing out one or two by highlighting several details of each.
  • Host a planning party. Imagine getting invited to this year’s annual report planning party? Sounds too good to be true, right? We suggest it as yet another way to change the approach and make communicating company success stories a top priority. Taking a moment to celebrate a year of good work is not just something that needs to be saved for the holiday party. To be clear, this party is likely more of a catered lunch than a night on the town. But, your approach should carry an important message of pride and enthusiasm. Not one of being annoyed by having to close out another year.

Attendees should include your internal team, those responsible for helping to gather content and stories, and external agency partners. The agenda should focus on story opportunities, logistics and execution. Don’t get too deep on creative or branding during this little party. Your goal is for everyone to leave with a weekly plan and path towards successful completion. 

If you can aim to collect stories and schedule your planning party on a 3-week timeline, you will have a head start on getting into the style and presentation of your content.

Don’t worry about page count.

And don’t start with the table of contents! Again, we recommend changing your approach by suggesting your success stories build the report. Your stories might best come to life as a video series, an animated reveal of stats and figures, or a large folded poster showcasing a leader in the community. Or, a series of social media graphics highlighting leaders in the community nationwide! The point is to make your content more engaging and present stories with an opportunity that can also extend shelf life.

As follow-up to your planning party, gather your creative team and partners for brainstorming sessions where you can dig in on story content. Don’t hinder exploration of ideas but keep your timing and budget top-of-mind. There are several ways to make a great idea come to life for your report. 

Bringing it all together.

Your stories will help shape your style and approach towards choosing channels and content that can work well beyond the typically printed piece. As you start to bring in additional content, maintain an approach that shapes a complete experience for your report. What is the style and tone of the letter from your CEO? Are you looking at information graphics and presentation of financials in new ways? Can you weave leadership and strategic planning into your story lines in a way that supports a clearer understanding of your mission and purpose?

As you start to pull together your plan, we’d like to leave you with five recommendations to make this year’s annual report process more enjoyable.

  1. Start today — we don’t want to see great stories get lost in old reports because no one wants to make it a priority.
  2. Find a way to capture stories on a regular basis so collecting them becomes easier each year.
  3. Make your report active in your marketing strategy and time it with an omnichannel approach.
  4. Think digital and print. We are seeing value in both.
  5. Use real photography, custom illustrations, etc. Good stories deserve this.

Need help getting started? Invite us to your next annual report planning party! And in the meantime, check out our handy planning guide for gathering content and brainstorming story ideas. If you’re ready to give your annual report a makeover, we’d love to hear from you.