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How to create an engaging annual report Posted by Kerrie Brooks

As a piece of communication, annual reports have a bit of a lacklustre reputation.

Typically viewed as a dry, text-heavy document designed to tick a legal box, they often elicit as much dread in the person who has to create them as they do in the person who is to read them. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

By re-imagining the traditional format and approaching the content in the right way, you can take your annual report from grey to engaging.

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From must-produce to marketing tool

The first step to creating an annual report that won’t go straight in the bin is shifting your thinking around what the document is.

Whilst, yes, ultimately it’s a required document that must contain a comprehensive account of your company’s activities, including your financials, for the preceding year, it’s also a valuable marketing tool – another opportunity for you to promote your brand and stimulate interest in your company.

If you were creating a sales brochure for your business would you just stick some words on a page and expect people to read it? No. You’d make it appealing to your customers, by carefully considering the design and contents, so they want to pick it up and read it.

Well, this is the same approach you should be taking for your annual report.

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Know your audience

As with any piece of written collateral, before you start creating it, you need to have an understanding of who your audience is.

For an annual report this would typically be stakeholders and investors – although it could also be potential employees, lenders, banks and even students.

Do they want or have the time to sit down and read a grey document stuffed full of text and tables? Highly unlikely. Readers prefer material that’s appealing to the eye and easy to digest – so give them what they want.

Getting the design right

Great design is an essential part of creating an engaging annual report.

Not only does it have the power to make people open it in the first place, but it’s also the key to producing something which is both easier and more enjoyable to read. In addition, it can help create a great brand impression.

Here are some tips to getting it right:

  • Be creative – who says your annual report has to look like every other dull black and white booklet going? Be arty, be bold – within the confines of your brand, of course
  • Make space – with something as information packed as an annual report, the content needs room to breathe. Consider wider margins and open up the leading and text to achieve this
  • Use colour – not only will this make it more visually appealing but when you choose the colours with psychology in mind it can direct certain emotional responses in the reader
  • Visualise your data, infographic style – this is one of the most effective ways to make all that dry financial data more digestible. Use graphical elements, timelines and a variety of chart formats
  • Break information into chunks – instead of presenting the contents in a lengthy narrative format, but ensure each point or message follows on from the next
  • Use bold typefaces – not only are these easier to read, but they can form part of the design
  • Incorporate pull-out quotes – this technique can be used to both break up the information and highlight key messages

In today’s digital age, your report should be available in both print and PDF or eBook format. If you want to really push the boundaries, you could do what some of the most forward-thinking companies are doing which is by-passing the standard booklet format in favour of more interactive digital annual reports.

Writing effective copy

A big mistake people make when writing annual reports is sticking to traditional lengthy business prose. Not only is this uninspiring to read but it’s also ineffective in communicating your message.

Great report writing, like great content in general, should both inform and engage – here are some best practices to follow:

  • Define a theme or concept – such as ‘Meeting the needs of the Information Age’. As well as being the header for your report, it can help focus your copy and tie it all together
  • Let your brand personality shine through – just because it’s a factual document doesn’t mean your tone of voice has to change – in fact, it’s better to be consistent
  • Tell a story –  create a narrative to your copy to draw the reader from beginning to end
  • Make it human – as well as talking about the financials, focus on your people and your customers
  • Keep it focused and concise– avoid information overload by including only what you absolutely need to and remove any unnecessary waffle or repetition
  • Write in simple, active sentences – this can help add impact to what you’re saying
  • Avoid jargon – write in plain English and favour simple over complicated technical words
  • Make it scannable – whilst this will be achieved partly through the design, break up copy with headers and subheads and use lists and bullets where appropriate

Once the copy has been inserted into the design, it’s vital that you edit and proofread it to avoid any linguistic, factual or typographical errors. In addition, ensure you include a clear call to action at the end of your report so potential stakeholders and investors know what to do once they have read it.

When approached in a fresh way, your annual report needn’t be dull and bin-worthy.  With clever design and smart copy, targeted to your audience needs, it can be not only a great read for stakeholders but an effective marketing piece that people will share and you can be proud of.

Need help designing or writing your annual report – get in touch today.

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