The annual report is a landmark in a company’s ongoing narrative and, as such, must be consistent with the story they have already created.
Black Sun, a respected strategic, marketing and communications agency, advocates that “good storytelling brings people together, restores faith, and stimulates the heart and mind.” And, as an annual report strives to unite, inspire and encourage stakeholders into new or continued investment, a good corporate story can go a long way.
Like any good story, this means having a clear beginning, recurring themes and values, and anticipation for a thrilling climax that your readers believe in. This story is exciting to create – and it may even help a company to recognise a common purpose that inspires both staff and stakeholders – but there are a few rules to first take into account.
The annual report, as defined by Black Sun, is “an opportunity for enhanced engagement and dialogue with stakeholders.” Therefore, as prospective investors and current stakeholders are the people most likely to read the annual report, it is crucial that the narrative actively engages them. Richard Ketchen, a Stakeholder Communications Advisor, recommends the use of an “active voice, plain language and personal pronouns.” Addressing the reader personally will demand their attention so they interact with the story as it unravels.
However, the story within an annual report is nothing like Little Red Riding Hood. While a company’s story is a fantastic means of communicating its brand, values and dreams, there is an underlying corporate responsibility to disclose clear, factual figures and genuine insight into the factors behind those figures.
The figures, of course, will come from annual revenues, profits and losses. These need to be complete and honest, but they will mean more to the reader if a context for the results is provided. This is the part of the story where characters within the company take a front seat. It is when the audience learns about what the key figures stand for, what they want to achieve and how they make decisions in order to meet their goals.
The more transparent companies are about their business model, including management structure and financial planning, the more comfortable investors are exploring new or increased investment. Jessica Fries, Director of the Prince’s Accounting for Sustainability Project, describes an annual report as a “window into what is truly happening within the company.”
The way a company conducts business and the factors that contribute to decision-making, including everything from financial considerations to sustainability issues, help to distinguish a company from its competitors. These details can be thought of as the story web behind a narrative and, when emphasised well, they have the potential to support an alluring tale that investors will return to year after year.
Stratton Craig can help develop your narrative and tailor the style and format of your annual report to your company’s unique reporting needs and objectives.