Why The Best Annual Reports Focus on Creativity
At the height of the Cold War defense contractor General Dynamics hired world renowned Swiss designer Erik Nitsche to develop and enhance their brand. While the US and Soviet Union sparred, General Dynamics sought to show the world that the power of atoms could be harnessed for peace instead of destruction.
After a review of their business, Nitsche developed an entire suite of corporate identity pieces for General Dynamics including their annual report.
Nitsche’s modernist approach to the brand focused on clean design, geometric imagery and vibrant colors to display the benefits of a strong military complex of which GD, its shareholders and the world became beneficiaries of.
During the 1950s General Dynamics’ Annual Reports were nothing short of art. Each report tackled the weighty issue of weapons of mass destruction and turned them into something that could benefit mankind at arguably one of the most tumultuous times in our history.
Not only did his work help turn General Dynamics into an iconic brand, his design aesthetic still holds up today as an effective and elegant piece of communications. Unfortunately, many companies view completing their annual reports as a bothersome chore regulated to corporate communication departments. Those that view annual reports as a chest beating display or simply an SEC box checking exercise are missing a tremendous and unique opportunity.
Annual reports provide a great, once a year opportunity to engage with a captive and important audience.
Like all good communication, annual reports give corporations the stage to not only educate, but also entertain.
Smart companies like Anheuser-Busch InBev and Twitter and don’t just view annual reports as reading material for hedge funds and investors. Nowadays annual reports can be energized to help woo prospective talent, voters, and engaged citizens.
Often these individuals will pour through the pages to learn more about topics that are important to them like a company’s position on the environment, inclusion and a myriad of other socially responsible topics.
When done authentically, an annual report can not only win over investors, it can be used as a deft tool to win public opinion and sway potential talent away from competitors.
Additionally, annual reports are not just the tools of the publicly-traded. Any company with stakeholders that takes communication seriously can use an annual report to their benefit.
For over 15 years we have worked with companies on their reports. One company in particular, a financial services firm based in New York, has fully embraced the power of the annual report.
From the inception of his company, the CEO took the progressive approach to grant each advisor shares in the firm upon joining. While the company is not publicly-traded, each year we were tasked with creating an Annual Report showing the prior year’s results to shareholders.
Our process of building a report typically begins with a sit down with the CEO to hear about a company’s performance. In addition, we discuss the challenges the company faced and how they did or did not overcome them.
After reflecting on the discussion, we develop a creative theme that correlates with the progress of the year. Financials are usually included, but what ultimately grabs people’s attention is the organization’s commitment to helping make the world a better place, which was only made possible by running a profitable company. This is all on display in the report.
The CEO when asked why he continues to do a report when ultimately he is not required to, states that he believes the annual report is a successful and effective recruiting tool. He is often stopped by investors and prospective advisors who say the report shows them the differentiation between his firm and the other firms that court them. In several cases, the report was cited as the deciding factor as to why people join or invest in his company.
To this day the annual report is the communication piece that he is most proud of.
If your company isn’t publicly-traded an annual report can provide you with a platform to do something remarkable and engaging.
Many might think that an annual report has to be expensive, but most reports can be created for less than $50,000. Often the lion’s share of the budget goes towards printing and mailing. To some that may sound expensive, but when you stop to consider the cost to reach your target audience with a specific message on any other medium it is then you begin to see the value of an annual report.
Digital or Printed?
Publicly-traded companies are required by law to provide an annual report to shareholders. Many companies are now providing shareholders and interested parties with digital versions of their reports via engaging interactive designs or via PDF. A digitally designed report can create an experience to help further engage readers and highlight important details from the year’s performance. While a digital report can save on printing costs companies should allocate similar budgets to a digitally-designed reports for the greatest impact. One clear advantage that digital has over print is the ability to change or update the report in real time.
Overall an annual report can help you tell a compelling story to a wide variety of audiences and help further your company’s objectives.