A successful annual report has to be more than a plain recitation of facts and figures. It is, after all, the most impactful piece of communication those near and dear to your organization will see all year. It represents your best opportunity to connect with an important audience and shape their perceptions in ways that benefit you.
In order to achieve that goal, you need to engage your readers, pique their interest, and have them several pages into the thing before they even realize they’re reading it. Otherwise, your yearly magnum opus is likely to get little more than a cursory glance before being chucked into the “we’ll look at this later (probably never) pile.”
Of course, not everyone will behave that way. Those with sufficient vested interest will wade through surprising amounts of text and data. But, these are not the ones who concern us here. We’re talking about those individuals with a less-than-complete knowledge and/or fully informed impression of your organization, and therefore most open to what you’re trying to tell them. In other words…the vast majority of the people who see your annual report.
In theory, getting through to this group is simple. Just put yourself in their shoes and talk to them in a way that resonates with their interests. In practice, it can be enormously difficult. You have to imagine that you don’t know a good bit of what you actually do know, and must somehow intuit what bits of information presented in what order will enlighten your audience and create the desired impression in their minds.
To top it off, everything should be woven into a cohesive narrative. People love stories and pay attention to them. Instead of beginning an annual report with an accounting of things that happened during the previous year, you would get more mileage out of telling “the story of last year,” complete with central characters and something of a plot.
When you look at things from your audience’s point of view, you may be surprised at how prior assumptions become called into question. For example, the expected “letter from our leader” can come across as an obligatory formality unworthy of much attention, and therefore may not be the best way to convey important information. In determining a visual look and feel, going with a conservative, traditional design might make you look unimaginative and out-of-date, instead of steady and substantial as you had previously thought.
In the final analysis, It comes down to what core message you’re trying to convey, and who your audience is. There is no one-size fits all approach, but putting real effort into figuring out how to engage the interest of that all-important persuadable portion of your audience will be time and resources well spent.