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1st Oct 2016

The Many Faces of the Annual Report

The standard purpose of an Annual report is to give shareholders and other interested parties information about a limited company or charity's activities and financial performance. Companies and charities are required to produce them in some form, but itís widely thought of as a bland product. However it should be neither dull nor simply for shareholder or trustee consumption.


As online distribution of corporate paperwork has increased, many investors spare themselves a pile of paper to absorb, but digital reports can simply be easier for those whom you wish to engage, to ignore. Publishing online is convenient for figures, results and data. The opportunity to be realised is by extending the use and appeal of the annual report beyond the information skeleton and making it a marketing tool that is worth printing.


So the answer is that there is a place for both formats of annual report - print and digital. Your printed report should be tactile, appealing and engaging. Many companies print a summary report with extensive numerical support information and data available online. Bear in mind that an annual report can be many things to many different people so if you create a digital version of your document, readers should be able to access each section individually so that they can tailor information to their own requirements.


Your objectives are to identify financial performance, achievements, your impact and value, future targets, culture and community building. If you stop thinking of this document as fodder for shareholders, and instead as a multi-purpose tool to be directed to investors, trustees, employees, clients, potential clients and more, the value of the annual report increases substantially. The key to making your report a useful and appealing document is to identify your varied readership before structuring and writing your report.


Rather than a chore that serves nothing but a legal purpose, an annual report is therefore an opportunity to showcase your processes, successes and achievements over the past year in one document. It can work to demonstrate your impact and value to a wide range of audiences and potential clients. This means that it can be employed all year round as a tool to advertise to corporate clients or sponsors, provide information to employees, substantiate funding applications, and spread brand awareness.


For this reason, it is important that you know what you want to say. Your report should not simply report facts, but have a clear tone, even a theme and narrative. Experiment with your annual report. There is no directive saying that this document must follow the same format guidelines every year. So you can get creative as this document is distributed far and wide. One thing that should remain consistent is that the report is easy to process for the reader. Not too many pages, not too much information to the page and plenty of images to substantiate the detail.


Remember that visual images are absorbed by the human brain 60,000 times quicker than text, and the annual report is no exception. Communicate your results, ambitions and examples of work visually using graphics and photographs. Show consideration for your reader by including practical reading facilities like contents, box, sidebars, index, glossary; and for online, tabs and search function.


There is a school of thought that states that the quantity of reports printed should be decreased to

save cost - however consider that by widening the scope and appeal of the annual report, you can distribute to a wider audience and subsequently remove the need for some other marketing materials, thus saving cost.The annual report is not dying, itís just evolving.