Annual reports. They’re mandatory but not exactly glamorous. While your shareholders, stakeholders and board members will expect one, the production of the annual report has long been considered a necessary evil rather than a valuable exercise in itself.
But with a bit of a change in attitude, the process of pulling together your annual report can transform the way that you look at your business. It also gives you the opportunity to change the way that others look at your business, which is the most important change of all.
Telling a story
The mandatory part of an annual report is obviously the accounts. Setting out your profits and losses, how you’ve spent your shareholders’ money and where you’ve made the most cash is the central tenet of any annual report. However, people who want to know more of the detail will be able to scrutinise the accounts in greater depth. The opportunity you have with your annual report is to take what could be a dry set of financial milestones and weave it into a story about your company for the previous year.
Although at the core of an annual report there is the requirement to report on your financial performance, smart companies use that as a framework around which to build a richer story. What did you get from the investment you made? What innovations lead to increases in your profitability? How has your organisation been performing against competitors, pushing itself for work and collaborating with others?
This is also an important opportunity to give credit where it’s due. It’s a chance to thank staff for their hard work, make clear the contribution they’ve made and let them know how much they are valued.
Selling your successes
Creating an annual report with a strong narrative gives you an unrivalled opportunity to tell the world about your successes. The message that you are trying to convey will not be editorialised and you can include exactly what it is you want to sell as your big achievements for the year.
In your review of performance for the past 12 months, highlight one or two areas that you really want to focus on, show your great portfolio of work. Once you have chosen these, make it clear how these successes have affected your business, the people who were key to making them happen and how they make your company better, stronger and more profitable.
Reaching your audience
Once you have a story you’re happy with, next step is deciding how to reach audience. It’s likely you will have more than one audience to whom you wish to tell your story. The annual report is a good way to communicate with the public, inform investors and stakeholders of your activities, communicate concisely with your board members and provide feedback to staff members.
In the past, companies could have expected to do a large print run of glossy annual reports to be distributed to hundreds or even thousands of people. Today, having a complimentary paper publication that goes with an electronic version of your report is much more effective. Working with an agency that has an understanding of web-based publishing can help you develop an online report that is interactive and from which readers can get even more value than reading the paper copy in their hands. A marketing agency can also help you develop your whole annual report package and ensure consistency between print and electronic formats.
You get one opportunity every year to really sell what your company has achieved, tying everything together in one succinct package. Make sure you make the most of it with a report that is slick, well-written and has the ability to be delivered both in paper and electronic formats to your stakeholders.
An article by Zoe Goodacre who frequently writes business articles.
Image credits: CileSuns92 and loop_oh