Haven’t Started Your 2013 Annual Report Yet — What’s Your Story?

July 2nd, 2013 16:28 by mary barlow

I hate seeing signs this time of year that say “172 days ‘til Christmas.”

Well, today, I feel kind of like one of those signs. Because in this blog, I’m reminding you to start thinking about the annual report you’ll post in first quarter. (Sorry — someone’s got to do it.)

Gone are the days when annual reports must include block after block of staid copy like specimens in formaldehyde. Annual reports with crisp copy and cool designs can be valuable sales tools, even for privates and nonprofits. A great annual report tells a story and frames your future direction. While financial disclosures are the lifeblood of for-profits’ reports, that doesn’t mean the entire document should read like an income statement.

“The risk is that annual reports become simply compliance documents, rather than instruments of communication,” said Hans Hoogervorst, International Accounting Standards Board at the IFRS Foundation conference in Amsterdam on June 27. Hoogervorst noted that fear of what to put in and leave out is what’s leading to the “ballooning” of annual reports, with “communicative value declining.”

AP trendsetters
A number of companies are nailing communicative value in their annual reports: Harley Davidson annual reports are always fun to read, featuring stories about customers with quotes and beautiful photography. Abbott Laboratories’ 2012 annual report contains a number of mini case studies about business partners and patients who rely on the company’s medical innovations. For inside copy, I love the way Trans Container’s 2012 annual report reads more like an infographic. Carolina’s Healthcare System did a nice job with its online 2010 annual report.

The key to developing annual reports like these is time, not necessarily a lot of time — just well managed time. It starts with considering how your story’s unfolding this year. What have been the big moments — good and bad? What’s still to come? How you frame this story can convey your competence to stakeholders and align strategic thinking among employees. You’ll want to put together your leadership’s thoughts on this. Then get writers and designers in a room, collaborating for a great concept.

Hate me now — thank me later
You may not want to face this now, but trust me, you’ll be glad later if you do. Here’s a sample timeline to consider:

Consider your 2013 “story:” July 8 — July 19
Determine a budget: Jul 22 — Aug 8
Find talent and resources to produce: Aug 11 — Aug 22
Create and approve concept: Aug 25 — Sept 12
Gather content from each business area: Sept 15 — Sept 30
Complete research for stats: Oct 1 — Oct 3
Write copy: Oct 6 — Oct 17
Rough out design. Insert placeholder for financials: Oct 6 — Oct 17
Schlep copy through reviews: Oct 20 — Oct 31
Incorporate reviewers’ feedback: Nov 12 — Nov 13
Proofread copy. Incorporate changes: Nov 14
Flow copy into design and finalize it: Nov 17 — Nov 28
Proofread the proof. Incorporate changes: Dec 1 — Dec 2
Schlep layout through final reviews: Dec 3 — Dec 17
Incorporate reviewers' final feedback: Dec 16 — Dec 19
Complete final proofreading process of layout: Dec 22 — Dec 30
Insert final financials: Jan 2 — Jan 10
Proofread the bejesus out of financials: Jan 2 — Jan 10
Post it to your website: Jan 10
Print hard copies: Jan 13 — Jan 24
Promote it(!): Jan 13 — Mar 14

Kind regards, M