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Annual Report: Design for Impact
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Annual Report: Design for Impact

By Megan Willoughby

It’s that time of year again. Christmas decorating, cookie baking, Hallmark movies and annual reports.

Yes, you heard me: annual reports.

Those year-in-review documents stuffed with so many balance sheets and dollar signs that your eyes will cross. Those thick books filled with edge-of-your-seat page titles like Cash Flow Statement and Profit and Loss. If your company name starts with a Z and ends with an M, or you sell athleisure wear (I haven’t worn real pants since March), you’re probably thrilled to be reliving or recapping 2020. But even if you’re among those who struggled this year, annual reports don’t have to be painful.

Annual reports, in fact, are essential for company executives, shareholders and other investors and may possibly be one of the most important documents a company will produce each year. With some creativity, they can also be relevant and engaging for employees, media and the general public.

Even if your company is privately held and you aren’t legally required to share a yearly financial statement, consider your annual report to be a multitasking marketing piece. A recap of successes and camaraderie for your staff. A way to foster stronger relationships with your clients. A piece to share on your social channels to showcase company culture. And a marketing tool for new business growth.

With creative planning, an annual report can become a memorable and inspiring page-turner. So, how do you get there?

  • Storytelling. For the most part, financial documents and statements are the only “required” portion of a company’s annual report; but supporting narrative and visuals add clarity and color. Tag in your creative gurus and content creators to flesh out your report with skillful storytelling. Include photography from company events, testimonial quotes from employees and customers, and survey data from stakeholders. Lean on your internal HR and communications leaders for support.
  • Infographics. They’ve become a catchphrase in the design world, but you really can’t go wrong with using infographics to share large amounts of data. Our attention spans are short, so just hit the highlights. Here are some great examples: Human Rights Campaign, Earnest.
  • You be you. Follow your company’s style guide and messaging tone. Don’t try to be serious and grandiose if that’s not who you really are or cutesy if you are formal and polished throughout the year. We all enjoy when a brand or product has personality and feels “real.” So let your company culture shine through.
  • Think outside the box (or the book). Except for the handful of required financial statements, an annual report doesn’t have to follow a template. It can be almost anything you want it to be. Whether it’s with a website, series of interactive stories or videos, there’s opportunity to make it creative and memorable. Check out these unique annual reports: Seguros Pelayo Insurance, Warby Parker, Girls Who Code.
  • Consider the delivery. You’re spending time and energy on the content going into this report. Make the most of it! Resize infographics to be used on social media channels or in email newsletters. Take your narrative and create a series of Instagram stories. Turn it into a beautiful self-marketing piece that your clients would want to keep. I love these annual reports that are more like works of art: Feltron, Prometey Bank, Kuoni.
  • Don’t overcomplicate it. The idea of creating an annual report can feel like a massive undertaking, especially when you have numerous stakeholders or are tackling this for the first time. Don’t make the process more complicated than it needs to be, and don’t make the final product bigger than necessary. Small and simple have a big impact if your report is well-executed and well-designed.

When it comes down to it, numbers are only part of the story. What’s most important to convey is company performance, company culture and a brief look at the year ahead. A well-designed annual report can help you tell the full story of the year.