Annual reports are the biggest, boldest single interaction a company will have with its key audiences. As a leading Chicago marketing firm, we have designed and written almost 80 annual reports. I believe they can do more for a company than almost any other marketing piece. For example, one of my clients – University of Chicago Medicine – uses its annual report for recruiting physicians and recognizing donors, in addition to increasing brand awareness.
Annual reports are requirements for many public companies. However, whether your company is required to deliver an annual report or not, it will want to develop a report that stands out. From graphic design to content to how to pull the entire document together, here are six things your company needs to create an outstanding annual report.
1. Dedicated Committee
Some of my best reports have been conceived by a small (three to five people) group of dedicated client representatives who know the organization inside and out. These individuals didn’t overthink the outline. They didn’t overanalyze the content. They simply set their goals for the report and executed against them.
2. Audience Knowledge
Your company’s annual report is more than just a state of the business report. It is aimed at sharing particular messages with target audiences – it helps to know them, what is of interest to them and their perception of your company. Once you have completed your research you can ensure you are addressing their needs in your report. As an example, when we set out to do audience research for Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, we had assumed parents were the primary audience because they were making the education decisions and paying the tuition. What we learned was that 80 percent of the decisions were being made by the students themselves. That knowledge led to a very different overall marketing plan and annual report.
3. Clear Vision
A clear vision of what your company wants the annual report to achieve is a must. What are the goals for the report? What does your company want its report to do? What is/isn’t the report? In reality, your company has a short amount of time with the reader, which means the report needs to make a big impact, quickly. One of our more recent annual reports was for a corporate client that had a clear vision. They wanted to illustrate the Badger Meter story. With a foldout front cover, expanded coverage, images for each audience and a comprehensive financial breakdown, this report showcased the events that made 2017 an exceptional year for Badger Meter.
4. Intentional Design
Yes, designing an annual report can be very fun and creative. As a Chicago marketing firm, we can’t help but get excited about this! However, the more thoughtful and intentional the design is, the more it will have the desired effect on your company’s audience. Going back to my Mount Carmel example, instead of taking a design approach that would speak to adults as we initially expected, we focused on a more youthful approach that would reach students.
5. Unity Throughout
It can be tempting to use one design for one section and a different design for another section as a way to connect with varying audiences. However, it is vital that there is cohesion throughout the report. The messages should be consistent from beginning to end. The tone should be constant from start to finish. The level of quality should be the same throughout the report.
6. Bold Choices
If your company wants readers to be surprised…to take a second look…to go deeper into the report, then you have to make bold choices. They don’t have to be expensive. They don’t all have to be in design. But, they do have to align with your company’s goals and vision.
Today, as fewer companies spend time and money on annual reports, simply producing one can be a bold statement. It shows your company has the vision to do a report; the efficiency to create it; and the financial strength to make it happen. I encourage you to take a stand and continue to do an annual report. Reputation Partners excels as a graphic design and marketing firm, and when you’re ready to start, you know where to find me.
Annual Report Trivia:
When was the first annual report published? 1903
What company published the first corporate annual report? U.S. Steel