Annual Reports: 7 Success Factors

Does your annual report exude confidence? Does it build credibility?

Does it immediately engage shareholders, analysts, employees? And tell your story with skill and style?

The annual report is one of the most important communication tools you will produce this year. Its design represents and embodies top management. Yet many organizations overlook its power to shape opinion.

Whether your annual report is printed, offered online as a PDF, or — the most effective choice — printed and presented online as a truly interactive report, these seven fundamentals will ensure its success.

1. Engage immediately

The clock’s ticking. You have 2 minutes. (That’s roughly the time a casual reader will spend with your report before deciding to abandon it — or keep reading.) Do your visuals have immediate impact? Is your story interesting?

2. Identify yourself

What, exactly, is it that you do? Can a reader grasp that quickly? Use visuals and content to communicate with absolute clarity. Don’t assume prior knowledge of your products and markets. Yes, a large part of your audience will be shareholders, analysts, and employees familiar with your business. It doesn’t matter. Who you are and what you do must be utterly unambiguous.

3. Tell a story

What’s the big idea? You need a theme, a point of view. Successful annual reports are more than just a straightforward company profile atop a Form 10-K. They enhance or redefine your brand. They offer a fresh perspective on the future. They’re not just a rehash of last year’s report.

4. Be direct

It builds credibility. What if you’ve had a difficult year? Create a positive impression by being forthright. Shareholders expect straight talk, especially during tough times.

5. Set the pace

Your pages need a natural flow with clear navigation and understandable hierarchy — in print and online. Some readers scan, quickly flipping through pages or clicking through sections. Others proceed page-by-page. Your annual report must readily accommodate both — with superb information design. Readers will not tolerate rambling, disorganized pages.

6. Control the details

They communicate quality. Examine the CEO’s photo, the readability of financial information, the margin rags, the ligatures, the paper grade, the print quality. For your online version: pay attention to the architecture, the navigation, the on-screen column width, the W3C standards. As you confront each design detail, make a purposeful choice based on the impression you want to convey.

7. Start at the top

When top management is committed to a compelling annual report with a strong brand message — supported by intelligent design — success is the happy result.

Larsen has designed more than 100 annual reports for more than 35 companies — from Fortune 100s to IPOs.