Whether you’re a private company or a public organization, an annual report is an important part of brand accountability and transparency. While public companies are required by law to create periodic financial reports, companies public and private alike will often create glossier reports for their shareholders, customers and donors.
These reports are required but they don't have to be interesting. Fortunately, a more creative design and engaging narrative will make investors and shareholders alike get excited about what's to come in the future of your company. Simply put, you don’t want these annual reports to be boring.
These are 7 elements that every annual report needs to keep people from falling asleep while reading it.
1. A Narrative Focus
Yes, the focus of an annual report is a company or organization’s year in review. But a good annual report will go a step beyond that and use a narrative angle or theme that differentiates this year from the years before it. After all, unique things will have happened in a year that deserve to be highlighted.
For example, say the theme of your annual report is “reaching the mountain top.” The metrics that you highlight and the anecdotes that you include should all support this theme. So, you should include metrics that show how your company or organization met high goals, overcame obstacles, or helped your customers and clients overcome their own obstacles.
2. Interesting Metrics
There are certain required metrics that should be included in an annual report, like allotment of spending. But for the purpose of your creative annual report, you may want to highlight certain metrics that are particularly outstanding and impressive. The key metrics that you choose to highlight should support your narrative focus.
For example, if your company raised an impressive number of funding for a good cause, you might want to highlight that as a key metric. Or if you grew your customer base by 200%, that would be a number worth highlighting. But how do you highlight these metrics?
3. Visuals like Charts and Graphs
Look, nothing making a report more boring than a wall of text. What’s more, information is often easier to digest when it’s presented visually. That’s why using charts and graphs to illustrate key metrics is so efficient. Not only do they break up the wall of text, they also give readers clearer picture of the metrics.
For example, this graph from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s 2016 Annual Letter highlights the gap pay gap between men and women, a major issue the foundation looks to solve.
4. High Quality Images
Engaging annual reports will have beautiful images interspersed throughout the next. If your company doesn’t have the budget for professional photographs, there are a number of sites that offer free, not cheesy stock images, such as Unsplash and Pexel.
The images that you choose should be relevant and illustrative of the text they’re beside. While pictures of people are great for an annual report, staying away from the obviously staged and super cheesy corporate photos is important. No one’s buying those. Look for photos that are vibrant and that inspire emotion in readers.
5. Vibrant Color Scheme
You want your company or organization to inspire positive feelings in your customers and investors. Choose bright colors (they can be your brand colors or otherwise) as accents for your titles, graphs, important stats and keywords.
For example, take Shopify’s Year in Review. They use the same mint color throughout their report for all of the graphs and pictograms, not only giving the report a cohesive design, but also adhering to the green branding of their site.
Make sure your color scheme is consistent throughout the entire report, including the design of your report cover. If you have the opportunity, work with professionals to find the best fit for your report.
6. Icons and Pictograms
See those cute little images of laptops and phones in the Shopify example above? Those little graphics are called pictograms. They’re a great way to make your design look fresh and modern. You can use pictograms in graphs, to itemize lists, or simply to embellish text. The important thing to remember is that the icons should be one cohesive style and they should be used tastefully, sparingly and with purpose.
Good pictograms use icons as units of measurement rather than words in order to bring the reader into the narrative of the data.
7. Meaningful Quotes
What makes the work of a company or organization matter? Humans. Be sure to include human stories in your annual report, including people within the company and outside people like customers and donors who have been impacted positively by the company. Annual reports for nonprofit organizations, for example, often profile donors who have made significant contributions. They generally tell the story of who the donor is, what their contribution meant for the organization, and quotes from the donors.
Don’t be afraid to introduce elements of your own unique company culture to an annual report. Remember that the annual report should accomplish two things: one, to educate current customers, shareholders, and donors and two, to introduce prospective customers, shareholders and donors to your company or organization. Tell your company or organization’s story in a compelling and honest way, and readers will pay attention.