3 ways to make that boring project the best one ever

How NRF’s Karlie Frank learned to love the dreaded annual report.

“Annual report.” The words alone are enough to put some to sleep. For trade associations, annual reports are a bit different — less focused on finances and more focused on the group’s achievements in the past year — but the very format implies predictability and sameness.

When we started the annual report project at the National Retail Federation last year, we didn’t see why it had to be so boring. In our world, we’re constantly talking about the evolution of the retail industry. We’re obsessed with innovators, customer engagement and reinvention, so why should an annual report be any different? As a show piece for an organization’s work the year prior, these books should be anything but routine. A good annual report lifts an association’s successes while reading like a story.

When we set out to create our 2017 annual report, we wanted it to be more than a glorified coffee table book. Luckily, we have a creative agency partner who isn’t afraid to push boundaries. Add me into the mix — someone who’s never created an annual report before — and we had the perfect recipe for a report refresh. Here’s a few tips you can use to do the same with your next “boring” project.

Steal ideas that excite you

The retail industry went through a major transformation in 2017, driven in large part by the growth of technology that allows retailers to better serve customers. We’re talking about stuff like robots leading you around the store to check items off your shopping list and 3D scanners that recommend a pair of shoes based on the size of your foot.

NRF spent so much time talking about the incredible impact these innovations had on retailers and consumers, and we wanted to integrate some of that technology into our annual report. We debuted an augmented reality element in which readers can see four videos come to life throughout the book, including one on the cover.

Here’s how it works: Readers download a special app that allows them to unlock four AR “triggers” throughout the book. When they see a red retail tag, they can hold their mobile device’s viewfinder over it to see a video pop up and play. We provided clear and concise instructions on the inside cover of the book, and on a paper band that comes around the outside of it, to make sure readers understood how to take advantage of the experience.

Think like a consumer

Few people enjoy reading long blocks of text. You may or may not still be reading this post, and I’ve only just clocked in at 434 words.

Recognizing the competition for attention in today’s world, we drastically cut down on word count in this year’s annual report. This eased the burden on readers and helped shift the spotlight to the images and the augmented reality experience throughout the book. Readers are more likely to make it through the entire book if each page feels manageable to digest. And let’s face it — some of us are only looking at the pictures anyway.

As a writer, cutting words can be difficult, but this selectivity brought focus and clarity to the report.

Vice President Pence’s tweet included in the report.

Showcase engagement

Social media is ubiquitous today, and so important when it comes to measuring influence with different audiences. To showcase some of the key stakeholders we engaged with on Twitter and Instagram, including reporters, conference attendees and even celebrities, we embedded images of these posts into spreads. Somewhere between a screenshot and an illustration, they pop off the page and add an interesting visual element other than the photos and block quotes that dominate most other pages.

Another cool thing about including these posts is the credibility it provides. We can talk about how great we are as much as we want, but it’s much more powerful to hear it and see it from other reputable people or groups.

The end result was an annual report that took a bit longer than usual to put together but was totally worth the wait. So far, the feedback from our members and other industry stakeholders has been incredibly positive.

How have you brought a fresh perspective to an otherwise routine project? Let us know in the comments below.