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Annual Report writing: How to share good and bad news

They say honesty is the best policy. And this is never truer than in annual report writing. Your report aims to inform and build trust and confidence among investors to secure repeat business. Written well, it will also engage wider stakeholders to achieve social acceptance.

Around 15 years ago, the average report was 85 pages long, and today they are over 50% longer. This increase is down to the growing complexity of regulations. There’s simply more to cover, and businesses must reveal both the successes and challenges of the past year. So how do you impart hard truths without materially damaging your company’s prospects? Here are our top tips for annual report writing.

Sharing bad news in your annual report

From financial crises to health and safety mishaps, there’s a whole host of potentially serious and sensitive scenarios that you may need to disclose in your company’s annual report. In light of Covid-19, the story in your annual report may not be the one you were expecting, and your report must be sensitive and honest on this topic.

Annual report writing is all about finding the balance between transparency and sensitivity. You don’t want to set off too many alarm bells among your stakeholders, and the right words will be the ones that soften the message without damaging the clarity.

Tone – How you deliver the news is the trick to instilling confidence in your stakeholders. Stick to the three Cs – concise, compelling and clear, to create a balanced, honest tone that won’t alienate your readers. Remember, it’s not just your stakeholders who may read the report, so keep the language accessible at all times, avoiding jargon, as you would with your digital copywriting.

Structure – How you structure your report can make a huge impact on how the news is received. Starting with the good and then the bad can leave a negative lasting impression, while the opposite can undermine the bad news. You should try to intertwine the positive and the negative, and structure it with topics where you talk about both together.

Succinct – In response to stakeholder demands for shorter reports, there have been numerous debates and publications aimed at encouraging companies to ‘cut through the clutter’ in their annual report writing. If you have something to say, then say it. All content writing should have short and succinct sentences to the point quickly. What’s more, a shorter, snappier report resonates more with the sustainability principles of increased efficiency and waste reduction.

Embrace accountability – admitting when things have gone wrong and acknowledging errors or misjudgements will help to demonstrate genuine accountability, which in turn will lend your report integrity and credibility. Above all, don’t try to put a positive spin on poor performance through annual report writing. The numbers don’t lie, and attempts to whitewash or greenwash a poor show will undermine your reporting credentials.

Stick to relevant material – In order to build trust and understanding, make sure you focus on the relevant information – stick to the facts that matter most to your stakeholders. It will help you demonstrate that your values align with those of your stakeholders, reinforcing your company purpose.

Pre-empt questions – Plan ahead and think about the questions your readers may ask. You can answer these in through well-informed annual report writing, demonstrating that you understand their interests and concerns.

Look ahead – Rather than trying to find a silver lining, it’s often best to look ahead and explain what’s coming next. Tell your stakeholders that you’re prepared for the future and what you envisage happening to restore their confidence in your business. These few lines in your annual report writing will demonstrate that your business is proactive.

Sharing good news

It’s a common misconception that sharing good news is the easy bit. While it may seem that your successes are exactly what your stakeholders want to see, the last thing they want to hear is arrogance. And it’s not an easy balance to achieve.

Tone – You don’t want your annual report to sound like it’s been put together by a marketing department. It’s an important document that should have authority. Even when you’re sharing good news, this should not be dressed up in fancy prose. To avoid sounding too celebratory or arrogant in your annual report writing, steer clear of puffed-up, self-congratulatory language. The last thing you want is to sound like you’re patting yourselves on the back.

Stick to the facts – Trust in the intelligence of your reader to know when good news is good news. You don’t need to tell them that you’ve had hundreds of successes and smashed multiple targets, they will get this from the facts.

Create a story – One way to avoid any trumpet-blowing is to create a narrative around overcoming challenges. Hard work is much easier to praise than luck, so show how well your team has done.

Include quotes – Ask your clients and staff if they would be happy to have their quote written in your annual report. You can either interview them and write it up or ask them to submit one themselves. Quotes give authenticity to your report and it’s much more humble for someone else to sing your company’s praises rather than you.End with a vision – When sharing good news, it’s a good idea to include a vision for the future. A recent Deloitte survey found that only 32% of companies gave a clear description of their purpose beyond making profits. It’s a huge missed opportunity to show that you’re working hard on plans for the future, including those beyond the balance sheet.

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