Top 10 tips for surviving annual report time

Okay, so it is that time of the year again. In some communications teams it is like pass the parcel.  Looks of knowing sympathy in the tea room: You're doing the annual report? (Thinking: Poor soul.)  Yeah, yeah, yeah...there are a few demented individuals who actually enjoy the process.  And yes, I know, some of you started all this months ago.  But for the rest of us mere mortals here are a few tips on minimising the pain:

1.     Write your own brief and have it signed off by the CEO and Executive team before you start.  This includes making sure there is clarity on what they want the document to achieve.  While this might sound obvious, you may discover that this cuts down some of the pain – especially when the document goes into sign-off.

2.     Once you have the brief agreed, do a simple layout guide so you begin to visualise how the content is going to hang together.  It is much easier to begin with this than to try to shuffle it altogether at the end.

3.     Create a realistic project timeline – especially making sure that you are not too optimistic about the delays you may face in sign-off. (The CEO's got two days to make his changes...yeah right, like that's gonna happen!)

4.     Build a really strong understanding of the line of responsibility between the communications team and the finance and governance teams.  This could go as far as actually designating specific pages or sections to their responsibility.

5.     Organise a morning tea for all the people whom you will depend on during the process of compiling the annual report.  This includes the PA’s of your Executive team who you may need to intervene to make sure that your sign off process runs really smoothly.  This is not just a “suck up” exercise but can help to give people a context of the overall project and understand why hitting deadlines, for example, is so critical.

6.     Be absolutely clear on what content is mandatory and what is elective. This is especially for practitioners who have recently joined the company but applies equally to anyone involved in annual report creation.  It really helps to understand the role of the annual report in the context of the legal or regulatory environment in which your business exists.  This will help you appreciate why certain internal stakeholders have higher anxiety levels about some sections of the report than others.

7.     Functional need should always win over artistic merit.  This is my way of saying: Don’t get sucked into the grand vision of the graphic designer or advertising agency at the risk of creating a nightmare when it comes to delivery.

8.     Avoid group board and executive shots.  This might sound odd but good old head shots in my experience, make life a lot easier…the Executive Group or Board shot sounds great in theory but often turns into a nightmare. 

9.    Get the finance team to manage the sign-off of the numbers.  This avoids the risk of the communications team becoming the meat in a technical-argument sandwich over accounting terminology etc.

10. Think carefully about photography – let’s face it – there are plenty of people who will simply look at the pictures and completely ignore the words!  I.e – the quality of your work will often be a judgement about how it looks rather than what it says…(Okay. I know this partly contradicts point #8 - but the group-shot-thing can just be a giant hassle).