Annual reports

Why did Ocado pick up a highly commended accolade for its annual report?

Manisha Pankhania, group communications project manager at Ocado, has adopted a new style of annual report to reflect the rapid evolution of the business

An effective annual report should do a number of things, although arguably the most important is to communicate the evolution of the business. This was the central narrative for retailer Ocado which ensured it received a Highly Commended in the Best Annual Report category for a FTSE 100 company at the 2019 CorpComms Awards.

‘Given the rapid evolution of the business, it was important for us to do things a little differently with this annual report’ and ‘to develop a new visual and written language to clearly explain the evolving business strategy and model for stakeholders and to bring to life the exciting growth trajectory we are on’, explains Manisha Pankhania, group communications officer at Ocada.

Pankhania views the annual report as ‘a crucial communications tool, with the power to influence the way a company is perceived by its key stakeholders’, adding that it is ‘often the first port of call for any given person doing some exploratory work on Ocado Group’.

The Ocado annual reporting suite, which is made up of print, online and video, provides key financial and qualitative information summarising the company’s recent operating and strategic performance, as well as its model and mission, to provide stakeholders with a thorough overview of the business.  Pankhania believes it provides a wide forum, through which the company can relate, influence and discuss any number of issues and topics that are deemed relevant for its stakeholders.

‘In our case, these range from solutions partners and employees, to regulators, shareholders and the broader society and environment in which we operate,’ she explains. ‘[The annual report] provides management the opportunity to proudly distill last year’s hard work, from across the business, into one place.

‘Even if an employee isn’t directly involved in producing the document, their commitment, quality and teamwork is evidenced in the numbers and the story.’

For investors – both current and prospective shareholders – the annual report is ‘a key channel to keep them enticed, updated, and excited about the journey ahead’.

But Pankhania notes that the annual report is evolving. ‘The annual report – purpose, content, and format – has changed significantly over time,’ she says. ‘At one point it was a dry, regulatory financial document, with a much narrower audience and purpose. Today, it has all that information, but is also meant to be used – and enjoyed – by a much broader group of stakeholders. This makes it a cornerstone piece of work across company comms, finance, company secretariat, creative and business teams, with, in turn, more use across the business.’

She adds: ‘The annual report is dynamic, reflecting the latest regulatory, accounting and communications best practice and media capabilities. We take our responsibility to produce the best possible report for our stakeholders, very seriously. We keep on top of any changes in best practice every year, so that we remain a market leader. One thing is clear: each change aims to improve that drive towards better accessibility, transparency and engagement with ever more stakeholders.’

Pankhania and her colleagues in comms have developed several measures to assess the success of the annual report. ‘We look at the foot flow on our annual report website. This data that the site allows us to see builds a good picture for initial interest and overall engagement,’ she explains. But business relationships also come into play. The media and analysts are also good indicators, particularly in understanding how effectively key messages on performance and strategy have landed. ‘As you’d expect, we get a fair amount of feedback from employees and other stakeholder groups too,’ she concludes.

Her tips for a successful annual report
Having a centralised and joined-up communications team has been the most beneficial advantage. As a business, we are constantly evolving; having a dedicated team has allowed us to be able to really tell our story with a 360 view.

If you’re tackling the annual report for the first time, my advice would be to make sure your company has a clear narrative, and strategy and process to bring that narrative to life, from the start.

Think: What are you trying to say? To whom? What is the process to best achieve that, from the start to the finish?