Creative Minds, Insights Business

Your annual opportunity

It can fill a Comms’ team with dread, but it’s what your Stakeholders will wait all year to receive. When it comes to pulling it all together, and setting the years performance in stone, your Annual Report a guaranteed read. So it’s perhaps time to tickle the sleeping giant and consider how your Annual Report can communicate so much more than your year-end. Having successfully produced Annual Reports for over 20 years for European Companies and major Institutions, beyond Creative Lead, Benjamin Leempoels believes the Annual Report should be embraced and befriended, and above all, seen in new light, as a unique platform to promote every aspect of your Company or Organisation, not just its financial standing.

Here Benjamin offers his views on how to approach your next Annual Report, how to view its production with positivity and how you can look forward to finishing the year with your ultimate corporate communication asset.

“… In 2002, we pitched for the production of an Annual Report for one of Europe’s most powerful and established Institutions. I remember the shiver that ran down my spine, when I took the call telling us that we had been successful in winning the project – the scale of it all, and being entrusted with the production of what is undoubtedly the most important communication asset of any Company or Organisation, was at first, daunting. But we were also told that we won because our creative looked forward as much as they looked back. That project changed my view on the role of reporting.

We were lucky to be working with a client who was open-minded, switched-on, and serious about being seen as leaders of change, and it resulted in an Annual Report styled like a magazine –  easy to use, engaging, full of surprising and tactically generated content that messaged so much more than the financial must-haves. At a post roll-out meeting, the Client expressed how much they enjoyed the project – and as an Agency we of course enjoyed hearing that – the opportunity to showcase considered design over 96 pages – show me a creative Agency that doesn’t relish a challenge like that !

For me, the early noughties really marked a change in Annual Reporting. Previously we saw the ‘dedicated Annual Report Agency’ – silent production factories, who swooned Clients by measured approach in their scientific ability to take excel files and run them seamlessly through structured InDesign table and chart makers. It was straight-line thinking, and those Agencies had their time. Pick up any Report produced up until the early noughties, and you’ll see standard issue signposting and structure, rigid content, and Financial data shown in standardized graph format. It was apparent that Report templates were dusted off every year, and pretty much redressed with a new cover photo. Apart from the date on the cover, nothing much changed. I think it was a beige period in Annual Reporting, that seemed to pride itself on 2 columns of 9pt serif typefaces, densely set over an absolute minimum of 144 featureless pages of featureless vistas. And Companies were very used to paying tens of thousands of euro’s for this (apparent) dark and mysterious art pedaled by those Agencies dedicated to providing little more than a perfect bound legal document. Design or creativity had no place in Annual Reporting, it once seemed irrelevant, almost deemed suspicious – a tactic used to sway readers away from all those numbers. Thankfully, the shackles and chains are off, and I truly believe that Annual Report production today offers a real opportunity to add real corporate value without looking at the pages that show the share price …”

Structure strategically.
“… See your Annual Report as a design challenge. An opportunity to continue your story, with bright and sparky information and enthusiastic story-telling. Assimilate, evaluate and communicate ! Bring into focus the initiatives and experiences that your Company has learned from – how they have brought new perceptions and new methods, and measured success. Your annual Report can help reiterate or even reset your story – reminding your audience of why they are involved, renewing enthusiasm and energy, setting positivity and excitement around your future activities. All this can impact and influence the minds of your stakeholders and peripheral audiences, future partners and Investors, and your employees. Strategic content can help message that your Company or Organisation is forward-thinking and future-ready – it is of course a given that you Annual Report should ‘report’, but a clever content can point to how positive next year will be. You can bring positivity to negativity, growing good from bad if your previous year performance is low. And never forget, your Annual Report will always be read by the competition. Your peers and competitors will always be interested in what you have done, and what you will potentially be doing. It’s therefore an opportunity to get tactical – Build strong stories, consistently promote your promise, and do it all in the right tone.”

Your annual Report can help reiterate or even reset your story – reminding your audience of why they are involved, renewing enthusiasm and energy, setting positivity and excitement around your future activities. All this can impact and influence the minds of your stakeholders and peripheral audiences, future partners and Investors, and your employees.

BENJAMIN LEEMPOELS — CREATIVE LEAD AT BEYOND STUDIO

Real data with real appeal.
“… Each element of your Annual Report builds a picture of where your Company or Organisation currently sits. From the cover title to the layout grid and visual styling, messages are formed and conveyed. It is easy to split the structure of an Annual report into 2 areas – Story-telling & Financial information, but both areas should combine to provide one homogenous message The challenge as with any design project is the balance of creativity with function. At beyond we will design Annual Reports around three words – typographic, photographic, infographic – we view each a powerful asset in our Annual Report armory, and when employed correctly, can bring clarity and usability to every page. Financial figures in their raw state can prove antiseptic and even in some cases mind bending – easy to read and original infographics can bring beauty and understanding to hard-core data. We should always remember the Annual Report is in most countries a legal obligation, which is perhaps the real indication why so many Companies and their Communications team view the project with trepidation and a degree of nervousness. At Beyond, we approach an Annual Report with confidence – we know what is possible, (and importantly, what is not possible), and we will always strive for structured, balanced content that is cerebral, enthusing, inspiring, and wherever possible, exciting…”

Roll-out for stand out.
“…Don’t default to print – Online platforms, dedicated App’s, supported by engaging Video assets are there to instill what could be a hugely impressive corporate message. Moving away from paper, can bring a real advantage and help to communicate progressive thinking, contemporary attitude and modernity. The platform you choose to communicate your yearly business, can in itself say more about your Company or Organisation, than the Report itself…”

Go early.
“…Whether you are responsible for planning your Company Annual Report, or an internal team overseeing its production, ‘that time of year’ should be approached with enthusiasm. It should be viewed as that once in a year opportunity to create a unique communication piece that can provide positive impressions that will potentially last longer than your P&L figures, or that ever-popular page disclosing your Board Members remuneration.  So, with your Annual Report content planning, why not ‘go early’ this year ? Thinking and planning will be easier to create a report that is engaging and fulfilling, not a rushed assembly of financial information that gets you across the legal obligation. Start as soon as you can, and blend your Annual Report with your Annual communications strategy – see it as a strategic asset, not just the culmination of your yearly activities, but an effective communication platform to inspire, excite and powerfully promote a Brand, Company or Organisation that is full of ambition for another year…”

Benjamin Leempoels is a Managing Partner and Creative Lead at beyond studio. He has over 20 years experience of Annual, Financial and Sustainability Report design and production, for major European Clients including ; Group Danone, The European Peoples Party, Cofinimmo, ING…

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