Thinking beyond report writing – are there other ways to engage with your audience?

by Colm Hebblethwaite

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With so many ways to communicate today, brands need to think carefully about the best way to present themselves to their audience. No matter how carefully crafted your words are, they will always face an uphill battle to grab someone’s attention if they are not put out there in the right way.

But experimentation is inherently risky. This is why companies often fall back on tried and tested formats. And perhaps one of the most tried and tested formats out there is report writing.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we love report writing at Stratton Craig. It offers the chance for businesses to shake off the limitations of social media and short-form web content to communicate ideas, strategies, or research to readers. When coupled with a consistent tone and great design, reports can help a brand’s identity shine through.

But as great as they are, reports are not the only game in town. There are many other ways to get your message out that might tell your story in a more compelling, authentic way and prompt better engagement from your audience. For time-poor content teams, this may sound like a lot of work, but if properly thought out and executed, a broader approach to content creation can streamline content production.

So. Many. Options

Content is everywhere. The average person flips between websites, TV, podcasts, radio, social media, video content, and other forms of media without much of a thought. We see huge amounts of content every day, but most of it is skipped past quickly. Companies like Netflix have become experts at using every tool at their disposal to make sure that passers-by stop to take notice.

It’s time that this kind of thinking was translated to business content. One way to get people to take notice is to do things a little differently. An example is our client Sport England. The organisation releases multiple reports every year to promote its different activities. But none of these tells the real story of the passion, people and choices that go into helping communities across the country. When we worked with Sport England on its ‘People and Places: the story of doing it differently’ report, we made sure that we showed every aspect of the project, including the doubts, personal challenges and reservations of the people involved. This elevated what could have been a standard results-based report into something far more unique, showcasing a range of personal stories that all interlocked around a shared goal.

There has been an assumption that ‘business’ and ‘personal’ audiences are different for too long. But having your business hat on doesn’t make you more excited about reading boring, formulaic content, so why is there still such a disconnect?

Start with your audience

We are not advocates of doing things differently just for the sake of it. We also don’t think that cheap tricks or always trying to jump on the latest trends are sustainable long-term content strategies. Instead, we always advise our clients to go back to basics and focus on what they are trying to say and who they want to read it.

Creating content should address a need rather than just ticking a box, and this is where a lot of reporting writing falls short. There are many people besides shareholders and other stakeholders that could find the information contained in an annual report interesting, but it is not easy enough for them to find.
Taking that information and repackaging it for different audiences and in different formats is a great way to get as much value out of that content as possible. When Netflix released their 2021 inclusion report, it chose to present the information primarily as a video. This not only makes the information more engaging (and shareable) to a non-corporate audience, but it reinforces the fact that Netflix primarily wants to be seen as a streaming service.

The possibilities may be endless – but budgets aren’t

 Now Netflix has a lot of resources to throw at its content marketing. Nothing puts an end to experimentation quite like budget and time restraints. This can create a ‘chicken and egg’ problem for content teams – how can you justify spending money and time on new forms of content without being able to demonstrate success first? The answer often lies in showing how being more efficient with the content you have can actually reduce the amount of time spent on content creation.

Going back to our work with Sport England, alongside the main report, the organisation also produced videos, blogs and condensed web pages that presented the information in a focused way. The idea is that a person could get a perfect grasp of the project from these additional pieces of content, while those that wanted to learn more could still read the report.

It is also important to remember that although it may be your first time exploring a new way of presenting content, there are others out there who will have done it before. As a specialist writing agency and content strategy experts, making sure that our clients wring as much value out of their content as possible is always at the top of our agenda. There are always ways to take a bit of content further. For example, do you interview subject matter experts, decision-makers or clients as part of your report writing processes? In the age of remote working, why not use a high-quality video recorder like Zencastr to record it and make some quick and easy talking heads videos for your site or social media?

Audience-first communications

Creating an ‘audience-first’ way of communicating means meeting your audience wherever they are. Although reports often contain the foundations for lots of interesting and engaging content, many businesses miss the opportunity to repackage and share it in different ways to connect with different parts of your audience.

By thinking differently about the reports your business creates, you may well give yourself the edge to create better business outcomes. If you want to talk about some of the ways we have helped our clients do just that, we’d be more than happy to talk you through some of our previous projects.

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