Cara Good

Article Summary:

How to improve your annual report.

Annual Reports Made Simple

For most public companies, the trademark communications vehicle of each fiscal year is its annual report. Annual reports worth reading convey corporate history, organizational progress and, of course, compulsory financial reporting. With minimal space to express such critical communications, many companies scramble each year to find ways for their annual reports and these messages to stand out.

Here are three tips on making the annual report communications process easier:

1. Present Your Best
Some companies that have experienced a difficult fiscal year use their annual reports as a mea culpa for poor financial performance. They print low-quality books, scrimp on photography or color, and write down-trodden narratives. We understand their intent is to convey a cost-conscious message; however, this tactic subverts progress and can make readers wonder if the situation is even worse than presented. "Don't they care enough about their brand image, employees' motivation and future financial performance to present their best?" Instead of presenting a no-frills, why-bother-even-producing-it book, we suggest an alternative. Produce a report with solid, crisp writing that adequately explains the reasons for your company's financial state without sounding like you are repenting. Present as many facts and details as you can about how your company will overcome its challenge. Design a book that is simple yet eye-catching. Include photography, illustrations and other design elements that show you respect your audience enough to create something that is visually appealing and worth their time.

2. Reflect Your Brand
The best annual reports have the same look and feel as a company's overall brand image. Some companies treat their annual reports as something separate from their overall corporate marketing and communications initiatives in an attempt to differentiate them, but this is a mistake. Your annual report is the single most-important financial and marketing document you will produce. It should be analogous to your brand image in the marketplace. This will reinforce your company's core message and build synergy among all of your corporate marketing programs. Moreover, you will save time and money by not reinventing the wheel.

3. Share A Story... or Two
You can't assume that everyone who reads your annual report understands your company, products and services, or industry. We see too many annual reports laden with technical jargon and industryspeak. This is the most common fatal flaw among annual report producers, especially at technology companies. Write copy as though you were explaining corporate concepts to someone who has never heard of your company before and was unfamiliar with your industry. A good rule of thumb: Write as though you're talking to the 13-year-old boy who lives in your neighborhood. Challenge yourself and your company by asking these questions: "Have I just regurgitated tired copy or have I gone the extra mile to present an honest-yet-dynamic picture of my company?" The best way to do this is to tell evocative stories that explain how you work with customers and how your company fits into your overall industry. For example, include customer success stories in your narrative. Use graphics to further educate readers and elevate their understanding of what sets you apart.

Cara Good is the co-founder and president of WunderMarx Inc., a fast-growing international public relations, marketing and branding firm representing some of the world's most innovative technologies and ideas. She has been quoted and featured in numerous articles on entrepreneurialism, public relations and marketing, and speaks frequently on these topics. For more information visit www.wundermarx.com

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