2 March 2023

A guide to:
annual report
design

In summary...

It is a legal requirement that large companies design an annual report each year. A document that details financial performance and reviews the year’s successes (and failures!). Investors and stakeholders love them, and, increasingly, your customers do too.



But just because they're a legal necessity does not mean they have to look boring. Through the clever use of design, annual reports can take the reader on a journey and inspire them.


What is an annual report?

An annual report is a comprehensive overview of a company’s activities and financial performance over the previous financial year. A legal requirement for all publicly traded companies, at its core, an annual report is prepared in order to provide a snapshot of a company’s standing to existing stakeholders, potential investors and other interested parties.

Usually focussed on financial information, large annual reports can also include environmental, social and governance (ESG) data, good news stories and insight from key personnel. This makes them an excellent marketing tool in addition to a functional document.

Why do companies create annual reports?

Every company registered in the UK must ‘prepare accounts that report on the performance and activities of the company during the financial year’. These documents must include a full set of accounts, including money in and out, assets and liabilities. For companies with a turnover of more than £10.2 million, more than £5.1 million on its balance sheet, or 50 plus employees, they must also provide a directors report and an auditors report.

But annual reports are much more than a sterile set of accounts…

Infographic showing what annual reports are good for

In addition to its legal requirements, an annual report is a perfect medium for:

  • Presenting data in an engaging manner
  • Mitigating underwhelming results / promoting positive ones
  • Delivering positive news stories
  • Giving a voice to senior leadership
  • Improving your company culture and motivating staff
  • Explaining your future strategy

A storytelling device, your annual report is a once-a-year opportunity to communicate fully with your shareholders, reflect on past performance, plan future success and reinforce company culture, values and purpose.

According to Comprend’s Capital Market survey, the annual report is the most trusted source of information about a listed company, so it’s important to put the time into getting yours right.

FAQs

Do UK companies have to publish annual reports?

All UK companies are required to disclose certain financial information through their annual financial statements. This information must be made available to shareholders and filed publicly on the open register at Companies House, the official register of UK companies. Publicly traded companies must also publish their annual reports and accounts to the market and may choose to produce a separate annual report for investors or other stakeholders.

When should annual reports be published?

Under UK law, companies are required to file their annual accounts and reports with Companies House within 9 months of the end of their accounting period. As a general rule, annual reports are usually published in June and July.


How to plan your annual report

With a deadline in mind, it’s tempting to rush into writing your annual report. We encourage you to slow down and take time to reflect before you begin. Map out the following elements and you’ll save time and money in the long run.

Six steps to planning an annual report

  1. Define your objectives
  2. Set key messages
  3. Define processes from the outset
  4. Choose the right medium
  5. Develop a creative brief
  6. Engage the right design agency

Step 1 – Define your objectives

The definition of success may vary from one company to another, but start your planning process by thinking about what a successful reporting campaign would look like for your business.

Armed with this knowledge, you should be able to define a set of clear objectives that are achievable, and that you can easily measure.

Step 2 – Set key messages

You need a strong editorial proposition to effectively convey your results, goals and strategy. By getting your messaging right from the outset, you can craft a compelling story that covers different aspects of your company’s success.

Involve key stakeholders early on to gain their support in your vision for the report. Their input can also help to ensure you include all essential messages and content.

Step 3 – Define processes from the outset

Who will create what content?
Who needs to approve certain parts of the report?
What are your timescales and budgets?

Clarifying such details will avoid conflicts between stakeholders. Consider assigning a project manager to oversee the entire process; act as a point of contact; and map all collaborators, their roles and responsibilities.

Step 4 – Choose the right medium

How we consume media has changed dramatically over the past decade. Digital mediums have superseded print in most areas of marketing, with stakeholders increasingly reading reports online.

But which is better?

Both have benefits when used correctly. When planning your annual report, as with any marketing campaign, it is important to consider the unique properties of both media before deciding.

Print is tactile, has credibility and is proven to increase engagement when compared to digital devices. On the other hand, digital reports have immediacy, can be distributed globally in seconds, provide in-depth user analytics and provide an interactive user experience.

Ultimately, the final decision will depend on your target audience, budget and the key messages you want to convey.

A popular third option is to combine print and digital reports. Maybe send a printed copy to major stakeholders, creating a sense of prestige for your most valued partners. Or create a lite digital version to display the key data, with a printed or PDF version containing the full report.

Step 5 – Develop a creative brief

A creative brief will pull all your planning into one document, outlining the creative approach and deliverables for the whole report campaign. Once agreed upon, you can share it with design agencies as part of the tender process.

 

A good creative brief should include:

  • Background to your company, including:
    • Industry
    • Market (including competitors)
    • Identity and values
  • Project overview, including:
    • The work that is needed – be specific about your requirements
    • The primary target audiences
    • The purpose/goals of the report
    • Timelines
    • Budget – Including a budget makes things easier for everyone. You will receive pitches that are relevant and affordable, and creative agencies can better tailor their services to your budget
  • Specific project deliverables
  • Summary of the brief

Step 6 – Engage the right design agency

Your communications and design agency will play a huge role in the success of your report. From getting the look and feel right, to ensuring you meet all deadlines, they’re a vital cog in the report machine. So, it’s vital to have the right partner.

When choosing whom to collaborate with, look for an agency that:

  • Listens rather than lectures
  • Has a team whose personality aligns with your values
  • Understands your vision and brand
  • Has proven capability to deliver both a print and digital version of your report
  • Has the capacity to meet your deadlines
  • Understands your budget and knows how to get the best from it

When you create a powerful annual report, you differentiate yourself from your competition and enhance your sector standing. While your competitors produce functional reports, you have the opportunity to make a statement that will impress.


How to design your annual report

Once you have a creative brief in place, you can start creating the editorial content. Alongside captivating visuals, the narrative needs to be engaging and inspiring. At its heart, the annual report provides an opportunity to show progress across the organisation, including profits, people and purpose. Once you align words and design, your annual report becomes a powerful reporting and marketing tool, not just a task completed for shareholder benefit.

What needs to be included in an annual report?

  • Statutory financial reports
  • Sustainability report (to meet SDRs)
  • Letters from the Chair of the Board/Trustees and the CEO

What might you want to include in your report?

  • Having a consistent theme for the publication can align internal and external teams, including designers and copywriters (Potential themes could be people, innovation or sustainability).
  • Features on the areas, projects and people you are most proud of over the past year. Think about your impact beyond financial success, for example, trainees getting qualified or valuable CSR work.
  • A powerful purpose statement that unites stakeholders and excites them for the future.

95% of UK companies have seen an acceleration in the transition from traditional financial reporting to enhanced reporting models that encompass financial and ESG / other nonfinancial reporting. With sustainability reporting becoming more important to this generation of consumers, including this information in your annual report is a good starting point.

Tips for impressive design

  • Because most people skim-read reports, make the important points stand out. Examples of useful graphic devices include word boxes, pull-out quotes and lists.
  • Use infographics to help people visualise key information. These could include elements such as iconography, graphs, and charts.
  • Choose clear and coherent typography. A web-safe font will be required for online versions.
  • Plan your portraits to make sure they’re professional and consistent. Think about the location and dress code before booking a photo shoot.
  • Think about your selection of images. Are they high quality and engaging? Otherwise, you may need to commission new ones or utilise stock image libraries.

Tips for great copy

  • Use stories about people to bring your brand to life. Good examples could be features on employees, beneficiaries, or customers
  • Make copy engaging and inspiring to show you care about what you do
  • Show the value you add through examples of your work
  • Vary the format of written content. Letters, first- and third-person stories, Q&As, lists, testimonials and word clouds can all break up long pieces of text
  • Use concise and positive language to make an impact
  • Consider using an external writer to get the best out of interviews
  • Be clear about the proofreading process. It’s essential to decide who checks for what, and at which stage

Spreads from the Systemiq Capital Impact report


The JDJ Creative Process

Great outcomes require vision, commitment, and collaboration. Our experienced and expert team has delivered campaign-specific, annual reports for some of the world’s most well-respected brands. Our trusted process for report delivery will ensure that your report is delivered both on time and within budget.

Graphic showing JDJ Creative's design process


How to proofread your annual report

Annual reports, reviews and other business documents need to be factual, accurate and error-free. They also need to be concise in order to make them readable. That’s why it’s essential to both proofread and copy-edit your document before publishing online or sending it to print.

Key things to look out for when proofreading your report, include…

  • Spelling, punctuation and language are all correct
  • Headings and bullets are consistent in style throughout
  • Numbers follow the same format throughout
  • Acronyms are introduced in the first instance only
  • The contents page, diagrams and footnotes are all up-to-date

To help with proofreading process, we recommend:

  • Checking final copy on a word processor for spelling and grammar before starting the design
  • Using a dedicate grammar checker, such as Grammarly
  • Suggesting corrections using Adobe Acrobat’s built-in comments tools

How to promote your annual report

Now you have a glossy report, it’s time to get it noticed. A lot of time goes into the design of an annual report. Too much to only release it in its original form. Conveniently, an annual report lends itself beautifully to re-purposing.

Here’s where to promote your report:

  • Company website
  • Email
  • Social media
  • Presentations
  • Paid advertsing
  • Webinars

An annual report repurposed for different mediums including social media, presentation and videoYour report contains a multitude of charts, graphs, and statistics that can create highly visual content. Some graphics you can re-purpose your annual report into, include:

Engaging images

  • Quotes
  • Key statistics
  • Infographics

Videos

  • Message from the CEO
  • Interview with CFO
  • Highlights of key figures

GIFs

  • Showcase key takeaways

All of these visuals generate engagement and useful links back to your original content, spreading your message exponentially.


Great annual report design is within reach

While creating an annual report seems a daunting undertaking, by following the tips and steps we have set out, you can design a report that looks great and appeals to all your stakeholders.

Download our guide and discover how to design reports that inspire your stakeholders

 

Want to know the secrets of excellent annual report design?

Download our FREE eBook to discover:

✅ How to get the most from your report
✅ How to increase engagement
✅ Our proven design process

DOWNLOAD


JDJ Creative are annual report design specialists

Our annual report designers have created reports for businesses in many sectors, including technology, financial and professional services.

Based in Cambridge, UK, but working internationally, our agency collaborates with clients globally, including across Europe, the United States and the Middle East.

With an expert digital marketing team on hand, JDJ Creative can assist clients with all supporting digital content to maximise brand reach. This includes interactive report design, websites, videography and social media campaign management. If you need exceptional graphic design for your next corporate report, please speak to our team today at hello@jdjcreative.co.uk or fill in our contact form.

Related Posts

Design

How to make
a sustainability
report XBRL-
compliant

Read article

Data

The Impact
of Visual
Storytelling in
Financial
Marketing

Read article

Design

The Role of
design in
investor
presentations
and pitch
decks

Read article

Design

Why choose
JDJ Creative to
design your
Sustainability
Report?

Read article

Design

What are
brand
guidelines?

Read article

Design

On the rise of
Sustainability
Reporting

Read article

Design

A quick guide
to Exhibition
Stands

Read article

Company News

Reflecting on
a wonderful
relationship

Read article

Design

How to choose
the right
annual report
design agency

Read article

Design

A guide to:
annual report
design

Read article

Design

Will AI replace
graphic
designers?

Read article

Company News

2022:
A Roundup

Read article

Design

Report design
for the future

Read article

Data

Using design
to better
understand data

Read article

Design

How to design
a sustainability
report

Read article

Design

How to present
a sustainability
report

Read article

Design

Five key steps
to sustainability
reporting

Read article

Design

What makes up
a sustainability
report?

Read article

Design

How to measure
sustainability

Read article

Design

Is print
still
relevant?

Read article

Design

Are brochures
still effective?

Read article

Design

What is
sustainability
reporting and
why is it
important?

Read article

Design

What to look for
when proofreading
an annual report
(or other business
document)

Read article

Company News

2021: A year
in design

Read article

Design

How to measure
the impact of
thought
leadership

Read article

Company News

Brands we’ve
worked with who
are changing
the world

Read article

Design

The psychology
of colour in
branding

Read article

Design

Can graphic
designers
do web design?

Read article

Design

Why are brands
going retro with
their logos?

Read article

Design

How to
choose a
brand typeface

Read article

Design

Women in
art &
design

Read article

Design

Promoting
your annual
report for
maximum
engagement

Read article

Design

Annual report
design tips

Read article

Design

The JDJ Creative
annual report
design process

Read article

Design

Should you
publish a digital
or printed
annual report?

Read article

Design

Planning your
annual report

Read article

Design

The ultimate
guide to annual
report design

Read article

Design

Creativity Vs
Automation

Read article

Design

Corporate review
design: Reimagined

Read article

Company News

Radiance
colour book

Read article

Design

Pollen: Preparation,
Collaboration,
Execution

Read article

Design

Making sense:
Touch

Read article

Get in touch

We’re always keen to hear from like-minded people with passion and purpose,
so let’s see if together we can bring your vision to life.