Every January, thousands of companies (particularly public and listed companies) begin the hard slog of pulling together the information for their annual report. Typically, this report is a corporate document disseminated to shareholders (and often the public) that spells out the company's financial condition and operations over the previous year.
The document is normally split into two very clear, distinct areas: The front part of the report often contains an impressive combination of graphics, photos, and accompanying narrative, all of which set out the company's activities over the past year and may also make forecasts about the future of the company. The back part of the report contains detailed financial and operational information.
The information contained within an annual report is important for several reasons:
- Are earnings higher, lower, or the same as the year before? How are sales doing?
- It allows you to find out whether the company is making more money than it is spending. How does the balance sheet look? Are assets higher or lower than the year before? Is debt growing, shrinking, or about the same as the year before?
- It will give you an idea of the strategic plan for the coming year. How will management build on the company’s success?
So how do you ensure that you engage all of the relevant people?
In days gone by, it was acceptable for these essential reports to be bland, because it was just something that a public or large company was legally obliged to produce.
These days though, an annual report is seen as a huge marketing opportunity to showcase an organisation’s identity and brand. The best annual reports help investors and other readers keep the company in mind long after they finish reading it. A great report can boost shareholder confidence and can cause more investors to gravitate towards your company. So, in other words, it’s a pretty big deal!
Everything that goes into your annual report is a reflection of your company. So, with this in mind, there are many factors to consider when preparing one. Below is a succinct list of how you can achieve an annual report that reflects who you are as a business, gives the relevant financial information and engages its readers until the very last page.
1. Content is king
As an agency that specialises in information design, we understand that the content has the main stage. So, this is something that needs time and consideration. Give yourself plenty of time when planning the content and look at the structure of the report to ensure that that it will maintain the readers interest right through to the financial reporting.
2. Short and sweet
Whilst saying that content is king, is also important to try to keep your content short and sweet. Readers will have a limited attention span and they may only read your report for a few minutes or so. They don’t like reading fluff and will not be impressed with large amounts of copy or confusing ‘industry speak’. Limiting the amount of copy you use will help your company make a strong statement in a timely fashion.
3. Reflect the company vision
Presenting something that is thought out and well presented, in your company brand, will ensure that your company’s vision has value. Your whole report should reflect the company’s vision. Shareholders and readers want to know where your organisation is heading and how it plans to get there. This should be reflected both in the content that you write and the brand visuals that you use.
4. Visualise your data
With any publication, it is important that you engage your audience. A well-designed annual report will utilise charts, infographics, iconography and pull-out stats to communicate key data quickly and effectively. Use design elements to draw the reader’s eye to the information you think is most important.
These graphics have to fit in with your brand look and feel, as well as be consistent with the theme that you have developed for the particular year. It is important to ensure that your graphics are easy to read and highly engaging. Make sure that if you are highlighting important information in a graph or infographic, that it is readable and easy to interpret.
5. Use compelling visuals
Alongside the use of graphs, infographics and iconography, compelling visuals should be used. These could take the form or photography (personalised, relevant photography is best) or illustration if a photo shoot is too expensive or difficult to implement, given the current circumstances. These are a great way to tell your company’s story. They are also a great way to build your identity and reflect your company vision.
It is important for an annual report to convey what the company is all about. Readers will pay a lot more attention to your report if it looks like your company put a lot of time and care into it and reflects exactly who you are. An engaging and well-designed annual report will not only impress your readers, but it can also strengthen your brand identity.
6. Pull out key facts
Pulling out key sentences, or statements is a great way to allow the reader to read the result of a page of content, without having to read it in detail. As we said previously, readers have a short attention span, and if there is something you want to draw their attention to or to clarify, pull out text, or quotations is a great way to do this. These can also be highly visual, depending on how you treat that block of text, and where it is placed on the page. They are also a typographical way of alluding to there being less content on the page. Breaking up larger blocks of text like this also allows the reader a visual break, encouraging them to carry on reading to the end.
7. Create a great user journey
In the current climate there may be a propensity to stick to online annual reports whether that be a website or a PDF. Maybe you want to produce a website and a document. The key for both channels is a great user journey (UX). Breadcrumbs that let the reader know where in the document they are, and what else there is of interest to them. A clear, easy to understand navigation within a PDF will help the reader use the document in a non-linear way, allowing them to jump to the sections that most interest them first. UX is incredibly important both on websites and within more traditional annual report formats. Of course, a printed annual report will also benefit from a clear signposted journey through the document.
8. Add a call to action
As we mentioned at the beginning of this blog, an annual report can have a dual purpose and using this as part of your marketing activity will increase your brands visibility and solidify your company vision. Adding a soft call to action can help to drive traffic to your website or increase the number of inbound calls from potential clients or investors. It’s a win-win situation!
It is important to produce a professional an effective annual report to target your audience in the right way from the start. We have worked with many companies to do this. A few of our more recent projects are with our friends at TPI Interiors and Selfhood, both of which you can read about on our case studies page.
If you would like to chat through any thoughts we might have for your annual report and how we could make it stand out from the crowd, please get in touch.