by Angela Rodenhauser

May 1, 2014

Even in today’s world of instant information, the annual report remains a powerful tool that continues to provide a great opportunity to communicate with key stakeholders. With the 2013 annual report season still fresh in our minds, here are a few strategies to remember when planning for next year’s annual report season:

1) Develop a schedule

The time it takes to put together an annual report ranges greatly depending on the company – from six weeks for some to six months for others. In any case, it is important that everyone on the team understands key dates and deadlines to ensure a smooth process. This includes any major timing implications such as Notice & Access (in which the “Notice Only” option requires an accelerated timeline to complete your filings). Developing and communicating a comprehensive schedule – including important dates such as executive travel and quarterly earnings releases – will help manage expectations during the tight approval process, avoid surprises, meet deadlines and maybe even reduce costs by eliminating rush charges on the production end.

2) Obtain CEO input early

Scheduling CEO and management interviews early on will ensure you have executive input from the start. And rather than waiting until the last minute, it’s equally important to keep the CEO and any other management reviewers in the loop throughout the process to get their buy-in on copy and design. Failing to get this buy-in on key elements such as theme, messaging and design may lead to inefficient starts and stops throughout the process with significant implications to the timeline and the budget.

3) Include a strong letter to shareholders, tied to the strategy

The shareholder letter is an opportunity for the chairman and/or CEO to deliver a personalized message that is directly tied to the company strategy and addresses issues that are top-of-mind for shareholders. In addition to a discussion of overall strategy, the letter should include a concise summary of the previous year’s highlights in context with the company’s strategy, as well as an outlook for the coming year, discussion of any governance issues and a vision for the future. Eaton’s most recent letter to shareholders is a great example.

4) Use case studies for maximum effect  

Customer case studies can enhance a company’s story. But they can be time-consuming to pull together and obtain the required customer approvals, so be sure to allow ample time in the schedule. Usually the effort is worth it, with the end result producing a strong narrative that illustrates successful execution of the strategy. For example, the four company success stories featured in Lincoln Electric’s 2013 annual (client) added a variety of interesting narratives and visuals that reinforced the corporate messaging.

5) Consider including CSR messaging

As shareholders’ expectations increase regarding sustainability/corporate social responsibility communications and reporting, more companies are including CSR content in their annual reports – ranging from a small chart or an example or two, to a page, a spread or an entire section. Even companies that publish a separate CSR report may include a reference in their annual, as ITW (client) did in its 2013 report.

6) Extend the reach of your report

Once your annual is produced, look beyond simply posting a PDF of the document on your website. Leverage the web and other interactive tools to get your message out. Including videos, graphics and other elements of the report in alternative formats will extend its marketing reach. Check out Ryder’s 2013 annual review with its CEO and management videos and interactive graphic financials.

The 2014 annual report season will be here before we know it, and it’s never too early to prepare for next year.

Want to get started? Give me a call at 216-241-4622 or send an email to learn more about our annual report capabilities.