Lovin’ Your Annual Report

Yes, the words “annual report” do tend to make communications professionals collectively bang their heads on their keyboards…but it doesn’t have to be that way. No, I’m serious. Stop laughing hysterically. You’re starting to scare me.

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking to about 70 members of the St. Louis Community Service Public Relations Council (CSPRC) regarding annual report production. I enjoyed it not only because they laughed at my references to Monty Python and Jimmy Buffett (which makes them way cool in my book), but also because annual reports can actually be…gasp…fun to do.

Hear me out before you call me a freak – read through my Top 10 Annual Report Tips, then judge for yourself. (Bonus tip: play some Buffett in the background while you’re reading – it automatically makes anything you’re doing more fun.)

  1. KISS (Keep It Simple, Sweetheart!) Don’t set out to write “War and Peace.” Just hit the high points.
  2. Be true to your brand. Make sure your annual report reflects your brand. If you don’t know what your brand is, I’d suggest defining it before you go any farther. Go. Now. I’m serious. You’ll thank me later.
  3. Repeat after me: audience, message, measurement. Ask yourself three questions: Who are you trying to reach? What do you want them to know? How will you know if they got your message? Answer them, and there’s your strategic plan for your annual report. (See, I told you this was fun!)
  4. It’s a thesis, not a last-minute term paper. Make a production schedule and stick to it.
  5. Your cousin Martha and her snazzy new digital camera do not equal professional photography. Don’t try to cut corners here. It won’t be pretty, in any sense of the word.
  6. It’s a storybook, not a financial textbook.With nonprofits, people want to hear all the ways their donations are making a difference. With for-profits, people want to know you’re being good corporate citizens. You can’t convey that message with dry numbers (apologies to all the CPAs out there). Tell your story in words and photos, and find the heart of your organization. Yes, it’s there – go find it.
  7. It’s impossible to love your donors/board/executives too much. People like to see their names in print. They like to see pretty photos of themselves (see #5) even more.
  8. Give a sneak peek at future goals. Letting people know you have a strategy for future growth is a good thing. They’ll trust you much more if they think you know what you’re doing. This has worked for countless political candidates (notice I said “think you know what you’re doing”), and it’ll work for you.
  9. Make it Googleable.If you post your annual report in pdf on your Web site, it’s not searchable. Post it as an html document, and put a link on your home page.
  10. Save some trees – go digital. You can print annual reports on demand these days – no more finding 10 boxes of old annual reports to throw out (might as well throw cash straight into the wastebasket), and no more need to take out whole forests to print your report (see #1, BTW). And, do you even need to print hard copies to send out to everyone on your list? Send a link through email or RSS (or heck, even Twitter) – you’ll increase traffic to your Web site and earn kudos from conservationists. It’s a win-win, people.

Any other tips to add?

  • Tammy

    These tips are right on target.  A few other reflections:  When the report is “finished” celebrate it, take a break and then come back a couple of weeks later with those who contributed (writers, designers, photographers, those responsible within your organization for the project) and discuss what worked and what could be improved upon. Keep notes and start planning for the next report.  Why?  It makes the report less of a chore and more of an ongoing process which takes the ‘fear’ out of starting up the process each year.  Chances are you’ll decide you need to do a better job of capturing stories and photos as they happen throughout the year.  Yes, it is possible to love the annual report processes!