Annual reports

Understanding the nature of an annual report

Hannah Lang, strategic communications manager at the PPF, discusses the changing nature of the annual report and offers advice on tackling the project

How has the role of the annual report changed?
Companies have to respond to heightened corporate scrutiny and evolving stakeholder expectations. A far greater degree of transparency is required now. Younger people, in particular, are more interested in the non-financial information – any organisation must explain its purpose and values, so a clear, compelling narrative has to run through the report. It’s also got to be engaging, accessible and easy to digest if it’s to succeed as an engagement tool.

How do you see the role of the annual report changing further?
The demand for non-financial reporting will grow and grow – sustainability reporting, social impact, gender pay reporting and so on will be central to the annual report or suite of reports. Digital developments will open up even more ways to engage users and allow them to get to the information they want. The challenge is in tying all the pieces together and keeping a narrative thread running throughout. Finally, climate-related information will be demanded from all organisations. We are developing our own disclosure in line with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures recommendations for asset owners.

How would you sum up the changing face of an annual report?
This is a huge opportunity for comms professionals.

What advice would you give somebody tackling an annual report for the first time?

  1. Understand who your audiences are and what they want from your report. You might be surprised by what you find. Try to create something that works for each of them. That’s your challenge.
  2. Interview your decision makers and internal stakeholders right at the start of the process to agree the objectives and narrative.
  3. Involve the designers early on as the look and feel can have a big impact on the story that comes through. Start thinking about digital journey early, not as an afterthought.
  4. Challenge your designers to find ways of visualising data that enhance the reader’s understanding. Robust project management is essential.