Annual reports

Why Informa won Best Annual Report for a FTSE 100 organisation

Louise Riordan, head of corporate communications at Informa, reveals how using solid narratives boosted the company’s 2018 annual report, and with it, the overall brand

A strong narrative is a precondition for an effective annual report. Without one a potential investor may be at a loss to understand a company’s ambitions and therefore lose interest. Media company Informa’s Combination and creation, the winner of the CorpComms Awards 2019 for the Best Annual Report for a FTSE 100 organisation, took this approach further, effectively presenting three inter-linked narratives.

It needed to cover the acquisition of UBM and its progressing integration, alongside the equity story of the new, enlarged group. Second, it had to explain the wider rationale for the acquisition and describe, in an understandable way, Informa’s new branding and business model. Third, it needed to emphasise the performance of the group’s four-year growth plan and set out the vision for the future.

For Louise Riordan, head of corporate communications at Informa, the strength of these narratives begins with first principles. She explains: ‘For us, the annual report is an opportunity to give a real sense of Informa, and to do that in as engaging and impactful a way as possible.’ From here, the aim was to present ‘the financials clearly, supplemented with informative data points and details of how the business is governed, wrapped around with narrative and stories that provide context and add depth and flavour’.

But she reveals a key differentiator in approach from the outset. ‘With any piece of annual reporting, there can be a temptation to start from what was done last year. We aim to come to it with fresh eyes each time and take into account how the company has developed as well as any feedback received on the last report and new expectations around business disclosures.’

The team sourced information, data and case studies from all over the business, interviewed management teams and consulted with our external reporting partners, presenting concepts and ideas to the management and board for feedback

This meant that one of the key narratives – its acquisition – needed to be centrally positioned within the report. ‘In 2018, our most significant business development was acquiring the international events company UBM. This greatly added to Informa’s scale and reach in terms of revenues, brands, colleagues and the markets we operate in,’ she explains. ‘We combined teams and portfolios and in doing so, created a larger company with more opportunities for future growth. With combination and creation such a key development throughout our business, this very naturally became the focus for the 2018 report and gave us a cohesive editorial theme.’

In terms of effective messaging after the acquisition, Riordan says that there was a fortunate situation in that the teams working on the report were practically the same teams that work in the business all year-round: from corporate communications and investor relations to company secretary, finance, risk, compliance, HR and brand. ‘It means we’re deep in the detail and the information to start with, and we’ve built up close working relationships that really pay dividends when it comes to the reporting period,’ she observes.

Nevertheless, a lot of work also went into the research phase to support the narratives notes Riordan. ‘The team sourced information, data and case studies from all over the business, interviewed management teams and consulted with our external reporting partners, presenting concepts and ideas to the management and board for feedback.’

The narratives obviously worked well, as the numbers connected to the report are impressive: a notable 30 per cent increase in requests for investor meetings while downloads of the report went up 40 per cent. ‘We’ve seen a natural increase in investor interest as Informa has grown in breadth and market value. Through the acquisition of UBM in 2018, many UBM shareholders became shareholders of Informa, and when we were preparing the report, we were conscious of this new audience and ensuring newer shareholders came away with a strong understanding of the enlarged company,’ she explains.

Having strong narratives helped with the design of the report, something the judges were impressed with. ‘From a design and narrative perspective, having a clear central theme based on key developments from the year is incredibly useful in determining what information is material for the annual report, and what is better conveyed through other channels.’

Riordan adds that this focus on design is in turn part of the company’s wider report approach. ‘Design has always been integral to our annual reports. Every page counts, and design is essential to conveying sense and information as well as character. We consider it from the very start and brand and design is included in every reporting discussion.’

Given the number of factors at play within the company this became even more pertinent. ‘For the 2018 report, this was especially true because we were refreshing Informa’s brand identity and brand architecture at the same time as the report was being created. The annual report was one of the key pieces of company material used to launch Informa’s updated brand identity.’