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…
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.
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
- Define your objectives
- Set key messages
- Define processes from the outset
- Choose the right medium
- Develop a creative brief
- 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:
- 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
- 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