YOUR ANNUAL REPORT. It's likely the one piece produced each year that captures your company’s story, vision, impact, and performance.

 

It pairs the potent mix of passion, people and performance, offering the audience a 30,000-foot view of the company and the landscape in which it operates. Because of this unique vantage point, your annual report has unparalleled potential to win supporters of all kinds—investors, employees, and customers.

Creating an annual report that gets read, however, is more challenging than ever, given the volume of communication your stakeholders are getting. That's why new methods of delivering this message are being adopted by today's leading companies.

 
 

Types of Annual Reports

 

 

WHILE ANNUAL REPORTS are typically associated with publicly traded companies, many private and non-profit companies also issue annual reports that deliver a high-level snapshot of their company to build community, customer, donor, and employee support. These can include:

 
 
 
 
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CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY REPORTS

 
 
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SOCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY REPORTS

Episcopal Senior Communities Social Accountability Report.

Episcopal Senior Communities Social Accountability Report.

 
 
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COMMUNITY BENEFIT REPORTS

Michigan Hospitals'  Community Benefit Report.

Michigan Hospitals' Community Benefit Report.

 
 
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PHILANTHROPIC REPORTS

Fidelity Charitable  2017 Giving Report.

Fidelity Charitable 2017 Giving Report.

 
 
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IMPACT REPORTS

Cleveland Clinic's  Economic Impact Report.

Cleveland Clinic's Economic Impact Report.

 
 
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CEO REPORTS

VBG Group's  CEO Report.

VBG Group's CEO Report.

 

WHILE THE MESSAGES may vary, the techniques covered here for improving the readership and memorability of any annual report are the same.

 
 

While the traditional annual report fulfills a legal requirement, an annual report is so much more than a compliance exercise.

 

 

IT'S THE CHANCE to cement support by offering a compelling and memorable snapshot of your company. A skillfully crafted annual report can:

 
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Create confidence in the CEO.

Because studies show that trust in CEOs is declining precipitously, this is on the radar of savvy communication teams who understand the importance of being intentional about building executive communication that bolster trust.

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Build trust in the company.

Authentic, compelling company narratives create understanding, which provides the scaffolding for building trust in your organization.

 
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Make the impact of your company clear.

Increasingly, people are aligning with companies because of their broader contributions. Beyond your financial performance, they want to know how you are impacting people, communities, individuals, and the world. Annual reports can connect your work to broader social needs which ignite support.

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Demonstrate accountability.

An annual report can depict your commitment to accountability and transparency which is increasingly important to investors, employees, and customers.

 
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Frame your story.

In today’s world, much of your reputation is in the hands of people outside your company via social media and other media outlets. Your annual report allows you to intentionally create the context and narrative of your company* without filters from outside sources.

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Educate YOUR audience.

People often operate with limited information about an industry or company; an annual report can be an important tool in expanding their knowledge in a way that makes them have a clearer picture of your company.

 
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Serve as a marketing tool.

A well-told company story is a potent marketing tool that makes an excellent introduction to your organization. Annual reports produced with an eye towards broader distribution leverage their development investment for broader impact.

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Help recruit.

Attracting top talent is directly linked to the power of your business idea, which makes a well-produced annual report a high impact recruiting tool,* as well. Potential employees share many of the same concerns of investors when it comes to a company's purpose, transparency, and impact.

 

 

GIVEN THE INVESTMENT of time companies put into their annual report, it only makes sense to be sure it is working hard on all of these levels.

 
 

Winning the hearts and minds of today’s stakeholders isn’t a simple task.

 

 

AS COMPETITION FOR VIEWERS' attention soars, your annual report has to both capture and hold your reader’s attention. So how can you make sure yours will rise above the competition?

Successful companies are developing their annual report message for multiple channels and bringing the highest level of communication skill available to the task—responding with prowess to their audience’s consumption patterns and preferences.

Here are some of the techniques they’re using to create a more memorable annual report:
 

 
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SHOW THE “WHY”
BEHIND YOUR BUSINESS

 

Annual reports can no longer be only about numbers. They must create connections between the financial performance and the benefits a company brings not only to shareholders, but to employees, customers, and society at large.

As the primary narrative of your company for a given year, an annual report has to convey the “why”* that drives your business. It does this best through story and with a distinctive, compelling statement that encapsulates the company’s purpose in a few sentences.

Annual report by  Make&Matter  for  PeopleFund.

Annual report by Make&Matter for PeopleFund.


 
 
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Include better DATA
VISUALIZATION to make it easy

 

Busy readers love efficient delivery of ideas, and graphics always outperform text in this area. Using effective data visualization techniques to instantly deliver your key performance indicators provides the viewer with "snackable" content that requires far less effort to consume than text.

Reader's will reward you with their attention if you make it easy for them to find and consume your most important data through visuals.

Annual report microsite for  Key Technology  by CMBell.

Annual report microsite for Key Technology by CMBell.


 
 
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AMP UP YOUR PICTURES

 

An investment in top quality photos is not a luxury, it's a must-have if you want to keep your reader engaged. Pictures really are worth more than a thousand words, and good pictures reflect handsomely on your business. If you're not convinced of this, imagine how long it would take to create a narrative that evokes what a photo conveys within seconds.

Annual report for  Key Technology  by CMBell.

Annual report for Key Technology by CMBell.


 
 
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ADD INFOGRAPHICS

 

Infographics* may be as much as 30x more likely to get read than text, so use them to simplify complex ideas, create visual clarity that requires less mental energy, and deliver an executive summary of the high points.

Once again, it's all about making content easier for your reader to find, understand, and digest.

Annual report poster by  Bates Creative  for  YMCA of Metropolitan Washington.

 
 
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GO DIGITAL

 

Go beyond the downloadable PDF and into the digital world with a custom annual report microsite devoted only to this content. (See how Home Depot and ustream hit this out of the park.)

Dedicated microsites are a best practice for any targeted messaging, and for good reason: they are entirely focused on just one message and make it easy for a viewer to find what they're looking for with minimal effort.

Added bonus? Analytics that tell you what your audience is reading, how long they are spending on your page, and where they are coming from—to name just a few. (More on this below.)

Annual report microsite for  Key Technology  by CMBell.

Annual report microsite for Key Technology by CMBell.


 
 
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USE DESIGN TO DIFFERENTIATE

 

Good design increases readership and elevates your image. Too many companies don’t make great design a priority for their annual report, even though it is one of their most essential elements of good communication.

A handsomely-designed microsite or 10k wrap will immediately separate you from the annual reports that appear in 10k form only. (If you’re still not convinced that the power of great design matters, think Apple.)

Annual report by  Volga Volga  for  Rosneft.

Annual report by Volga Volga for Rosneft.


 
 
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MAKE IT EASY TO BROWSE

 

Use white space and "snackable" content to help viewers find the content that interests them. Remember that people read in this order: pictures, graphics, headlines, captions, subheads, callouts, and bulleted lists. Hurried readers who browse your report should be able to catch your most important messages even if they never go on to read the full text of the report.

Annual report for  Global Fund for Children  by  Belen Ramos.

 
 
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PAIR IT WITH VIDEO

 

Video is the fastest growing and most persuasive communication tool available—for good reason: it makes for a much more powerful delivery because it uses images, sound, motion, and music to engage the senses. A video version is also easier to share, more memorable, and easier to track via viewing analytics.

Annual report video for The Nature Conservancy.


 
 
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TELL A STORY

 

Your annual report is your company's story. It provides the context for your numbers, but also reveals the culture, contributions, vision, and values of your company—the very things that will move someone to join, invest in, or buy from you. Bringing the power of story* to your annual report is a tried-and-true way to increase both readership and engagement.

Annual report for  Nuru International  by  Gabriel Schut.

Annual report for Nuru International by Gabriel Schut.


 
 
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MAKE IT MOBILE-FRIENDLY

 

An increasing number of your viewers will use their phones to review your annual report, so make sure your distribution plans include a mobile-friendly version. Content that isn't mobile-friendly will be a barrier to readership.

Annual report and digital annual report for  University of California  by  Mucho.

Annual report and digital annual report for University of California by Mucho.

 

 
 

THESE BEST PRACTICES in annual report delivery can help you rise above your competitors, get remembered, and build support. Never before has the battle for your shareholder’s attention been so intense, but by using best practices to improve your readership, your image, and the impact of your annual report, you can increase your annual report's reach, impact, and results.

 
 

Video has an unrivaled impact as a communication tool.

 

 

THAT'S WHY VIDEO is becoming an important tool for delivering the essential elements of an annual report message. Video also provides good analytics and offers the versatility of a variety of formats:

 
 
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1. Animated report

 

This format is well-suited to an abbreviated version of your annual report that brings the high points to life. It pairs pictures and graphics from  the text version of the report for the visuals with music and a voice-over narrative (professional voice talent or in-house voice) for the sound track. Check out this example from Energy XXI.

PROS: Affordable, fast to produce, and good for companies whose CEO can’t appear on camera.

Annual review animation by Persistent Peril Animation for Cats Protection.

Annual report animation by Journeyman for Efficiency Nova Scotia.


 
 
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2. Script and b-roll

 

This format features video footage of your business over a narrated sound track (again, with professional voice talent or an in-house voice, which could be the CEO’s), but doesn’t have any people speaking directly into the camera.

PROS: Brings the viewer inside your company and shows the people and product behind the business. Also good for situations where the CEO can’t appear on camera and the product is visually interesting.

Annual report video from Heart of America Council.

Annual report video by Be Inspired Films for Midland Heart.


 
 
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3. Interview-driven

 

This format features your CEO on camera delivering the message that is supported by b-roll and graphics that tell the story visually.

PROS: Makes a personal connection to your CEO and to your company.

Annual Report video from Association of Related Churches.

Annual report video by Flying Frog Media for UNC Hospitals.


 

Video is also a powerful tool for building trust.

HERE'S WHY:

 

It hands control to your viewer. It shows, rather than tells—allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions and pursue their interests.

It's personal. It takes the viewer inside your company and reveals the people, passion, and purpose that drives it.

It feels more real. Video can show a real person delivering a message, which can be less filtered than text and perceived as truer. The viewer is able to see the person and place without it being “edited” by a third-party reporter or writer, who brings his/her own filters to the telling of the story.

It's emotional. Because video brings images, motion, sound, and music to the experience, it far outperforms any other medium in producing an emotional experience. A viewer who is moved by your story* is one step closer to choosing your business.

 
 

 

THE RIGHT KIND of video can be one of the most credible and memorable ways to deliver trust-building messages.

 
 

An annual report microsite is a dedicated, small website that is exclusively devoted to delivering your annual report message.

 

 

IT GENERALLY EXISTS outside of your corporate site, but matches the visual brand so users may not realize it is a stand-alone site. Microsites are highly effective for a variety of reasons:

 
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They deliver content digitally, which dramatically expands the reach of your annual report by making it easily available in online searches.

Viewers can interact with your content any time, any place, making it available to many more people than a print report can reach. 

 
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They make it easy for the viewer to find exactly what they’re looking for because the site is ONLY about one thing: the annual report.

This decreases the abandonment rate of viewers who might get to a company website, but give up when it takes too much effort (read too many seconds) to find the desired content.

 
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Microsites often have better design options than most corporate sites—which means they can be more visually arresting.

Every successful brand knows that good visuals help sell.

 
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Analytics for the campaign are easily viewed by agency and client, allowing the agency to make instant updates that improve SEO.

This is cheaper, faster, more efficient, and more effective than having a back-and-forth process that involves requesting data, analyzing data, making recommendations, and making changes to the site.

 
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There’s just one call to action—and it’s the one that supports your annual report message.

Good web design actually directs the path of viewer through the content very strategically, and takes them to a call to action at the end. In a microsite, there is only one call to action, which makes it easier and more likely that your viewer will engage in the way you want.

 

Microsites are the industry standard for single-message initiatives, for good reason: they are the best digital option.

 

 

SOME COMPANIES EXPERIENCE initial resistance to websites outside of a company website—and understandably so. Companies want to ensure certain levels of security, a consistent visual brand, and internal control of their digital content.

It’s important to remember that advocating for a stand-alone microsite is not a criticism of a company’s website, it is simply an acknowledgement that the two have very different purposes.

Visitors to your company’s website come for a variety of reasons and bring the vantage points of investors, customers, job-seekers, and donors, to name just a few. As a result, the home page has to effectively triage all of those, which means viewers have to sift through the home page content and click several times to find what they’re looking for.

A microsite, on the other hand, has only one purpose: to deliver a digital version of the high points of your annual report message. This makes it much easier to help your viewer get to the content they want without sorting through other messages.

And as we know, you can spend a lot of resources getting people to your website, only to lose them within seconds if they can’t find what they came for. The company that makes it fast, relevant, and easy for the user is the winner.

 
 

YOU CAN START by using the techniques we've outlined, as these are tried-and-true methods to increase readership and impact.

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