Four steps to a successful annual report

It is important to keep your audience in mind and avoid ‘design by committee’, writes the development director at Nim Design

Your annual report or review is probably the most important (and expensive) piece of marketing material you will produce this year. But is it really achieving its objectives?

Too often, the arduous process of collating copy, seeking approval from various departments and implementing “design by committee” can result in a document that lacks focus and fails to excite. I have worked with many third sector organisations on their annual reports, so here is my advice on how to keep your project on track.

Decide what you want to say – and how you want to say it

Know from the outset the main messages you want to get across about your organisation, and agree these with senior managers. Try to identify a key point that can be threaded throughout the publication, such as the fact that you have a new strategic direction. Keep your target audiences in mind and consider how you can make these issues relevant and interesting to them.

Once you know what you want to say, and who you are saying it to, it’s time to think about the kind of language you want to use. Tone of voice can speak volumes about your organisation, so try to be consistent.

Brief your suppliers

Now you have established your key messages, tone of voice, target audiences, budget and timeline, you are ready to share this information with your copy contributors, designers and printers.

Before you start, be clear in your own mind about your budget and deadlines. Knowing your timeline and how much you are prepared to spend will put you firmly in the driving seat at meetings.

A good copy brief should ensure that all the content supports your overall themes and addresses your target audience. Sharing information about your organisation and your key messages with your designers should also inspire them to develop a unique concept that reaches out to your audience and visually represents the theme of the report. This is also a good time to discuss and commission any new photography, illustrations or graphics.

If you are briefing your printers directly, get some advice now about how various size, folding, binding, colour and varnishing options can support your theme, and how these will affect your costs.

Stay in control

Make sure you schedule in enough of your own time to fully consider the copy, design visuals and print quotes that will come flooding across your desk at this next stage. If you don’t keep a firm hand and a cool head now, the whole project can run away with itself.

Hopefully, your clear and comprehensive brief will have resulted in wonderfully written copy and sensational designs. However, even with the best will in the world, the designs will need tweaking and the words will need editing. You can edit these yourself or enlist the services of a copy editor who will have the advantage of a little distance from the project. Don’t be tempted to skip this stage because, once the copy is in the design stage, it is much more expensive to make changes.

Enjoy your success

Now you are ready to send your edited copy and visuals to your designer for layout. You’ll still need to edit for space and write picture captions and headings, but you are on the home straight, so enjoy the process. Once the design proofs are finalised you can send the document to print, and within weeks you should be in possession of an annual review or report which is a positive reflection of your organisation and a useful marketing tool for myriad situations.

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