For December year-end companies, the start of the annual report development process is just around the corner – and now is usually when the panic starts setting in. One of the main challenges involves trying to coordinate a wide range of disparate contributors, each with different skillsets, not to mention different roles and agendas.
It’s all about starting as you mean to go on. From a content perspective, a few simple steps can ensure smooth development lift-off and, ultimately, a high-quality document that acts as a central tool for stakeholders to understand strategy, business model and performance.
Here are our top tips:
Assign a steering committee
Different department leaders and key contributors will naturally have their own strong views on what goes into the annual report. To maximise alignment, a steering committee should meet at regular intervals to discuss strategy and track progress. We recommend fortnightly meetings between October and December, and weekly meetings from January until publication.
Agree on a narrative flow and core messages
Before starting content creation, it’s a good idea to briefly outline the core narrative and key messages that the report will detail. Ideally, this outline would be written down and approved by the CEO and/or Chairman before fingers hit keyboard. As an extra step, plan who will deliver what input, when and how.
Integrated means integrated
Recent years have seen a worthy trend towards integrated annual reporting. Great! However, too many said reports, while comprehensive, lack a clear narrative thread, often resembling a disjointed set of wide-ranging statements. Not so great. Ideally, there will be direct linkages between the various sections: how do operational results relate to financial performance, for example? A truly integrated approach will allow the most important themes to emerge, helping to “tell the story” of the company’s performance convincingly.
Similarly, reports that offer a one-sided, overly positive view on the company’s progress lack conviction, undermining stakeholder confidence and driving uncertainty. Therefore, facing up to challenges, trials and tribulations of the past year in a transparent way is key to building trust among stakeholders – and the annual report is the best channel through which to do this.
Lean in and enjoy it
To be sure, no reporting process is without its hiccups. A certain amount of pressure is inevitable. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the journey. No other corporate document offers such a comprehensive record of your company’s performance and direction – and ultimately your own professional raison d’être – at a particular time. It’s a once-in-a-year opportunity to inform, engage and inspire. Go for it!
At Baxter Lawley Communications, our team of native-English copywriters and communication specialists have helped to develop annual reports for a range of high-profile companies. Curious how we can help you? Get in touch with us.