Keep Your Annual Report from Becoming an Annual Snooze

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determining a visual look and feel, going with a conservative, traditional design might make you look unimaginative and out-of-date, instead of steady and substantial as you had previously thought.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.


Television for the People by the People

Community access TV in Santa Barbara is alive and doing surprisingly well. TV Santa Barbara is an independent non-profit organization with its own top-flight production and training facility. It has the latest gear, multiple studios, and a staff of professional producers, directors, camera operators, and editors. For a modest fee, anyone can become a TVSB Member and have access to the equipment and studios, as well as classes in literally every aspect of video and multimedia production.

TVSB also offers local businesses and other non-profits video production services at prices far below standard commercial rates. It’s a pretty amazing deal and a great resource for the community. Everyone who has a story to tell is welcome, and a range of outreach and educational programs are aimed at increasing media literacy,

This February 23, TVSB will host its 2019 Media Awards at the Alcazar Theatre in Carpinteria to recognize achievements in the creation of the content distributed on their broadcast and online platforms.

For more information visit
To see one of the pieces we created for TVSB click here.


Before a Shovel Ever Touches the Ground

Restoring our trails

Many popular trails within the Thomas Fire burn area and debris flow footprint suffered major damage. The work required to return them to a safe, usable, and stable condition is daunting. In some areas, whole segments of the trails have been obliterated and may have to be relocated. The permits and environmental reviews needed will add substantial time and expense to the process.
While some funds may be provided by local governments, it is unclear how much they will cover or when they will be available. And FEMA funds cannot be used to restore damaged trails on federal lands, which includes anything inside the Los Padres National Forest. Other funding must be secured. So, local trails groups formed the Thomas Fire Trail Fund in order to get work underway quickly.
The Thomas Fire Trail Fund will be administered by Santa Barbara County Trails Council, Los Padres Forest Association, Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers, and C.R.E.W. These four non-profit organizations have decades of experience in the planning, construction and maintenance of the trails in Santa Barbara County. All funds donated will be used for fire and debris flow damaged trails in the Thomas Fire burn area.

Help restore our burn area trails! More than 25 miles of trails have been damaged 
or destroyed, and it will take a massive, community-wide effort to restore them. Visit to donate or learn more. Find volunteer opportunities at

To learn more about this project, view our case study.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same


An interview with Mike Silverander of Silverander Communications

On January 24th, 1984 Apple unleashed a revolution in personal computing. A few months later Michael Silverander bought a then state-of-the-art Macintosh with a whopping 128 kilobytes of memory. He paid extra for the external floppy disc drive. While the Mac would go on to change many facets of the business world—the typesetting, printing and graphic arts industries were particularly impacted. It was the beginning of an avalanche of rapid technological advancements.

In those early days only two programs were available for the Macintosh—MacPaint and MacWrite. But before long, Mike and his employees were able to see a representation of a printed page on a screen in front of their very eyes. Revolutionary stuff for the graphic arts community, not only in Santa Barbara but around the world.

“Instead of literally cutting and pasting images and text, and then sending those paste-ups to a printer who would take a picture of the paste-ups, use that to create a plate, and finally print whatever the project was, we were eventually able to create a file on the Mac and send that file directly to a printing company,” Mike said. “The enhanced capabilities and efficiency were apparent from the outset. ”

“We’re in the idea business,” Silverander said. “Every day we are tasked with communicating something new for our clients. Researching and arriving at a solution that’s tailor-made for each company we work with is what we do best, and the explosion of new technology over the last few decades has given us the ability to come up with a far greater range of solutions than we would have ever thought possible,” he added.

In certain ways that greater range of possibilities makes Mike’s job more challenging, but it’s also what he loves most about his business. As the principal of one of the few Santa Barbara communication agencies that’s been around since the 1980s, he recognizes that the ability to adapt and grow with changing times is an invaluable asset.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter whether the work Mike and his team produces goes on to create a digital impression or one that’s made by ink on paper. When done properly, they support one another and are each relevant in their own way. What’s most important for his clients is answering two key questions at the beginning of every project: what are you trying to say and who do you want to say it to? “Time and time again we reduce the projects we’re working on to those basic questions, and then apply large amounts of common sense,” he said.

Though technology and the communications industry continue to grow and evolve, for Mike and Silverander Communications, one thing will never change about the way they do business: honoring the importance of understanding the customer, developing a rapport, and allowing that to guide the pieces into place for every project.


The Case for Having Fun

When professional athletes are interviewed before a big game they often say they’re just going to go out there and have fun. Have fun? Really? Millions of dollars and their entire future might be on the line…and they want to go have fun.

Seems kind of crazy, but we all know what they’re talking about. They’re playing a game, after all, and if they were to become consumed by the gravity of a high-stakes contest, they wouldn’t be able to play their best. Having fun means playing your best, and playing your best means you have the best shot at winning. Professional athletes know they’re playing a game, and they work hard to adopt a mindset that allows them to have fun while pursuing a very difficult goal.

That ability to have fun at something serious is a useful skill for anyone who works hard to be successful at virtually anything. It means looking at whatever you do as a sort of game. A game is something you play…and when you’re playing a game, you have a particular perspective.

When you’re in a game, you’re almost always in it to win. That’s what makes playing fun. It’s not about being ruthless, or playing dirty in order to defeat an opponent. Good character and sportsmanship matter as much on this playing field as any other. The important thing is having a clear understanding of how to win the game, and then going about it in an intelligent way.
For example, it doesn’t make sense to take slights personally—whether they’re real or imagined. That’s a distraction that keeps you from playing to the best of your ability. And, when a mistake gets made, the obvious thing to do is learn what you can from it and move on. Doing otherwise would only hamper your performance.

Playing the game well can be its own reward, whether you ultimately win or lose. It helps you to enjoy what you’re engaged in, and that can be a powerful motivator to achieve at a higher level. So…just go out there and have fun.


Chasing the Cool

Exactly what makes a design good or bad—the assessment of whether or not it works—is hard to pin down. Like art or fashion, it’s a subjective thing that somehow we seem to be able to come to some level of agreement on.

And, even more than with art or fashion, what’s thought of as good or current design goes in some pretty easy to distinguish cycles. For example, when smartphones first came out it was popular to design icons and apps that mimicked the actual three-dimensional objects or functions they represented—like a ruled yellow notepad or a hardback book sitting on a wooden shelf. After a while, that started to feel old fashioned and the flat design trend took over. Everything got reduced to minimalist abstract shapes and flat fields of color. Now that’s starting to look a little shopworn, so shading, shadows, and soft edges are starting to reappear. The pendulum swings back.

The reason couldn’t be clearer. If what you’re doing looks like what everyone else is doing, no one is going to pay attention to it. In addition to conveying the right message—which is the real hard part—it has to attract the eye. It has to be fresh, not stale. Think about the first time you saw a graphic that looked like something hand-drawn or hand-lettered in colored chalk on a blackboard. It was different from what you’d seen before, and it made you pay attention. You probably still paid attention the next dozen or so times you saw that technique being used. But after you’ve seen it umpteen million times, it loses its charm. In fact, it looks like the work of someone who couldn’t be bothered to be original, and that can leave a bad taste in the mouth. Repetition breeds familiarity, and more often than we would like, familiarity breeds contempt.

This is something that clients need to keep in mind, and it’s something designers know instinctively. If the work is going to engage an audience, it has to be different enough to make people stop and take a look. Maybe it’s something they’ve never seen before, or maybe it’s an unusual twist on the usual. The important thing is that it’s different enough to get noticed.

There’s no such thing as a permanent design solution. It’s always going to be a moving target. Because what really gets through to us—what has that indefinable quality known as cool—is constantly changing and evolving. All designers are continually chasing the cool. The really good ones come close to catching it.


Stick the Landing

When everything is done well, a great marketing campaign can cast a spell over its audience. With the right combination of substance and style, it’s possible to compel a previously uninterested individual to do something truly extraordinary… like clicking on that link that you want them to click on. Since it can take a lot of time, energy, and money to conjure such magic, whatever is lies beyond that link had better live up to its promise.

In most cases, that link leads to a landing page. These purpose-built, standalone web pages are rife with opportunity for those willing to do a little planning. Since they don’t need to tie into the rest of your website in terms of style or navigation, landing pages can have a distinct look and feel that carries over from the campaign they draw from. In other words, don’t break the spell! Landing pages should relate closely to whatever drove the viewer to click the link in the first place. Think of it as an “opportunity for continuity” that makes it possible to tie branding and messaging together across multiple platforms and, in so doing, strengthen the impressions made on each one.

Landing pages can also provide with a wealth of useful information. With only one source driving traffic to the page, you can easily track the number of views generated and learn a lot about the audience. You can also use landing pages to test different messages, and immediately see which one drives the biggest response. Such information is hugely useful, but impossible to discern if you just dump users on your main website.

You can do all these things and more with a landing page, but only if you plan far enough in advance to build one. Too often, the promise of a strong campaign is unfulfilled simply because no one had the time or foresight to build a proper landing page. We know it’s not always easy, but there’s much to be gained by not overlooking this key part of the process. With a little planning you can stick the landing every time, a feat which will cast its own kind of magic.


Sales & Marketing—Separate But Equal

Sales and Marketing

Over the years, we’ve worked with companies large and small in a great many different industries. It’s been a good vantage point, and one of the things we’ve observed is that combining the Directors of Sales and Marketing into a single position is usually not a great idea. Merging these two fundamentally different functions under a single leader can even undermine efforts in both areas.

A wise business consultant we know puts it this way…sales is about the present and marketing is about the future. While it may be easy to quibble with some of the implications of that statement, it does capture an important truth. Sales professionals are, by necessity, focused on the near-term. They are generally working with ambitious goals and tight timelines, and they simply have little room for long-term strategic thinking.

When salespeople do become involved in marketing decisions, their focus is often—if understandably—on a few items they hope will drive people to take action now; making the headline louder or the logo bigger, for example. What they tend not to consider, however, is that each piece is part of a bigger plan that could be undermined by a short-term perspective.
Perhaps a certain subtlety in messaging or design reflects the polished, understated image that a company needs to differentiate itself from the competition. Making the logo bigger might (or might not) get more people in the door on a given weekend, but it can easily undermine a refined brand image that has been established over time.

A true marketing professional understands this, and concerns themselves with building a lasting relationship between their company and its customers and prospects. This requires not only a different skillset from sales, but also a different mindset. Positioning a product or service correctly requires a thorough understanding of the entire space in which a company operates.

Knowing how competitors try to sell their products and services is key in creating an effective marketing strategy. While a good salesman will no doubt know how to sell against major competing products, he is unlikely to have the time or resources to develop that knowledge into a strategic plan of action. That’s where marketers earn their money. By analyzing the current landscape, they identify and emphasize the key differentiators that become effective selling points.

Asking one person to manage all that responsibility while running a successful sales engine may seem to have short term benefits, but it’s a recipe for sub-par results in the long run. That’s why many organizations have shifted from a having a single Director of Sales and Marketing to focus on improving the working relationship between the two departments. When the Director of Sales and the Director of Marketing jointly assess and align their departments’ efforts, they are better able to achieve the company’s overall goals. The payoff can be huge. According to a recent report by the Aberdeen Group, 74% of the organizations classified as Best-in-Class share the commonality of strong sales and marketing alignment.


Digital Has Made Print Better—The Key Benefits of Print-on-Demand

We’ve been hearing predictions of the death of the printed page ever since the invention of the word processor. But, as we know, the digital world has yet to finish off the centuries-old stalwart of ink on paper. And, it’s not likely to. The transportive, tactile quality of a well printed piece simply can’t be equaled by the undeniable sameness of everything we consume digitally. At this point, it’s almost trite to say that print is not dying. We think it’s more instructive to look at the ways digital technologies have reshaped print, making it more versatile and affordable.

There’s no better example than the development of a whole new type of printing press that serves a growing market. Known as print-on-demand presses, they are hybrids of high quality color copiers and conventional printing presses. Like copiers, they generate images electronically from digital files. Like conventional presses, they use liquid ink (in this case, liquid toner) that sinks down into paper and creates a finished product indistinguishable from traditional offset printing. This is crucial, because it does away with the shiny, melted plastic look of even high-quality xerox copies.

These new print-on-demand presses bring together the best of both worlds. They almost entirely eliminate the costly “make-ready” phase of traditional printing—where plates have to be made separately, hung on the press, and then the press run until everything is registered and looking the way it should. And, since, on-demand presses use liquid toner, they print beautifully on many different types of paper—smooth or textured, coated or uncoated, thick or thin.

The bottom line is that, while it’s not perfect for every situation, print on demand offers a number of significant advantages over traditional offset printing—particularly when smaller quantities of a high quality piece are desired. Here are some key points about print-on-demand that are worth knowing and remembering.

You can print as few as you need. Because set-up time is drastically reduced with print-on-demand, it’s economical to print very small quantities—as many or few as you need.

The quality is as good as conventional offset printing. Even most experts would have a hard time telling if something was printed on a conventional offset press or print-on-demand equipment.

It takes variable data to a new level. Since it’s a digital process, every single copy can be different…different type, different photo…different colors…different whatever you want.

Turnaround times are usually shorter. Because jobs move on and off a print-on-demand press much more quickly, everything else—including delivery—moves faster too.

Large format pieces aren’t a problem. Print-on-demand pressed used to be able to print only relatively small sheet sizes. Not anymore. Presses able to print large-size posters are now common.

You can use almost any paper. Unlike xerox-type processes, print-on- demand works great with textured papers and coated stocks. Most presses can even handle card stock.

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