How to Develop a Dynamic Annual Report: Six Tips for Success


While most people think of an annual report as something public companies do (we’ve written many over the years), for non-profits, healthcare systems, educational systems and other non-corporate entities it can also be a great way to connect with donors, prospects, patients, recruits, or others.

As a leading Chicago marketing firm, we have designed and written almost 80 annual reports. Doing so has taught me that they can be so much more than just a report.  Instead, they can be valuable marketing tools with legs to tell your story and increase brand awareness in a compelling way. Take, for example, one of our clients – University of Chicago Medicine. They use its annual report for recruiting physicians and recognizing donors, in addition to increasing brand awareness.

From graphic design to content to how to pull the entire project together, here are six things to consider to create 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. They 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 organization’s annual report is more than just a recap of the prior year. 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. When we set out to do audience research for Mount Carmel High Schoolin 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
    In reality, your company has a short amount of time with the reader, which means the report needs a clear vision to make a big impact, quickly.
  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.
  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.

These days, simply producing an annual report 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. 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