Annual reports

Why PPF won Best Annual Report for an Unlisted organisation

Finding a way to simplify a complex area was key to the success of the Pension Protection Fund’s annual report

The Pension Protection Fund (PPF) is a unique and vitally important organisation addressing a very particular problem. It compensates members of UK defined benefit pension schemes when their employer collapses, protecting the financial futures of more than ten million people. As an organisation that is funded by a levy on eligible pension schemes, effective communication of its work is  key to its success.

Hannah Lang, strategic communications manager at the PPF, explains: ‘The PPF is a complex organisation in the complex world of pensions, so improving understanding of what we do transparently is a priority. As an arm’s length body of the Department for Work and Pensions, we need to include a great deal of information required by law and balance it with engaging storytelling that works for a variety of stakeholders, in a balanced, transparent and accountable way,’ says Lang.

The annual report, which won CorpComms Awards 2019 Best Annual Report for an Unlisted Organisation was highly successful in its aim, containing an incredible amount of information, which had to be accessible to those diverse range of stakeholders.

Lang explains: ‘Our stakeholders include our members, levy payers, policy makers, politicians, industry groups, pensions professionals, employees and prospective employees. Some of them will head straight for the financial tables or actuarial reports. Others want to know how we’re governed or how we give back to the community. Levy payers want to see value for money – they’re interested in how we invest and how we manage our risks.’

This award winning report was themed on the value the PPF creates in a number of spheres: how it provides valuable protection and service for its members, how it drives value for money for the schemes that pay its levy, what it does in its community and what makes the PPF a great place to work. ‘We used case studies and quotes from various stakeholders to bring the message to life, with visuals and multimedia to support,’ notes Lang.

In so doing, the judges felt the report design simplified a difficult subject.  ‘The need to simplify complex information drives all our communication, confesses Lang. ‘We know there’s a wide range of knowledge levels among readers of our report so we aimed to make the performance report understandable to anyone, even if some of the detail might only be relevant to a niche audience.’

To this end, at the front of the report the PPF included a simple, visual, explanation of what it does, its values and strategic priorities, as well of an insight into its range of stakeholders. ‘We also briefed the agency to use infographics to convey complex information – not just icons, but strong graphics that genuinely facilitate understanding. Case studies of members, employees, key projects and significant investments brought the report to life and added visual interest,’ says Lang.

We know there’s a wide range of knowledge levels among readers of our report so we aimed to make the performance report understandable to anyone, even if some of the detail might only be relevant to a niche audience

The PPF has a unique role. Lang explains: ‘Our members don’t choose to join the PPF. They often come to us at an extremely distressing time in their lives, perhaps having lost their job as well as worrying about what will happen to their pension savings. Discovering that the PPF is there to compensate them for their lost pension can be a huge relief.

‘We want the onward journey for our members to be wholly positive, so we aim to provide the best possible service. When you’re explaining the finer details of financial stress testing or asset allocation it takes some effort to keep the member message running throughout.’

In this way, the annual report offers the organisation an opportunity to fully promote and showcase its work. ‘For some organisations the annual report is simply a statutory obligation,’ says Lang. ‘For us it’s our biggest set piece communication – our yearly chance to highlight why we exist and showcase our achievements. Our board take an active role and the process brings together people from all over the organisation.’

The report also establishes much of the communications agenda going forward. ‘We create an integrated campaign around it, maximising the content across our channels,’ says Lang. ‘We take a selective, strategic approach to media throughout the year so for national business contacts the annual report provides an opportunity to catch up, get in front of our CEO or CFO and hear their take on current issues affecting us.’

In a subtle approach, Lang says the PPF design agency, Emperor, used reportage photography-led case studies of PPF members across double-page spreads throughout the report. ‘These add authenticity and, crucially, to remind readers that our members are at the heart of everything we do,’ says Lang. The agency also introduced the ‘shield’ graphic device, inverting part of the PPF’s logo to create a circle over images to protect and surround the person. ‘The shield conveys the safety net we provide to members at a critical time in their lives. It’s now a fundamental part of our brand identity and has taken the brand to another level.’

She adds: ‘Our report – and our entire brand identity – has come a long way over the last few years and we don’t intend to stop here,’ says Lang. ‘We’ll always challenge ourselves and bring in best practice to continually improve people’s understanding of what we do. We’ve got big plans for next year’s report and beyond. We want to incorporate sustainability in a more integrated way – and we’re looking to try new things in the digital space.’