If you are a writer, editor, project manager or you drew the short straw this year to manage the annual report then you are probably up to your neck right now writing, producing or monitoring one.

The following six tips and reminder are based on my experience with annual report production and there is bound to be something relevant to your role in this year’s annual report. In my next blog I will publish more annual report tips.

Annual reports may seem glossy and glamorous. But as a past writer/editor/coordinator of annual reports, believe me, annual reports are the most stressful document type I have worked on.

Annual reports can be a nightmare because:

  • Some content is compulsory
  • All content must be absolutely correct
  • Concurrent releases may have to be organised: releases of hard copy and online versions of the annual report, media releases and for some companies critical information for the stock exchange
  • Annual reports must be kept absolutely confidential until released
  • Many staff cannot be bothered helping with the writing of annual reports
  • Investigative journalists, politicians, regulators, shareholders and industry analysts, are out there waiting to check your annual report with a fine tooth comb. They will be particularly looking for errors, but also content that has been deliberately left out or is just poor quality reporting

Tip 1. Know exactly what task you are responsible for
Most likely it will be one or a combination of these:

  • Writer of all text
  • Ghost writer for the CEO’s report
  • Editor of some or all of: text, graphs, tables, captions, hard copy, online copy
  • Overall project manager
  • Designer or compiler of photos, graphs and cover artwork
  • Production editor for paper version including liaison with graphic designer and typesetter
  • Production editor of an online version

Always find out who is doing the other tasks and make sure you have their phone and email contact details. If there isn’t a formal project manager you will need to cross check that nothing is falling between the cracks. There is no time for delays in annual report production.

Tip 2. Know the legal aspects of content
Many annual reports for companies, bodies receiving government funding, not for profit organisations and other organisations are legal documents. Acts of parliament, for example, the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) or regulations, define the nature of some annual reports, including their:

  • content
  • accuracy

Make sure you have access to someone in your organisation who is an expert in what the law expects.

Tip 3. Draw up detailed timelines and let everyone know
Legislation and regulations may specify deadlines for releasing annual reports and fines may be applied if they are not met.

Most staff in organisations are not interested in annual reports and cannot be bothered getting involved with your questions They just want to get on with this year’s work. Your report is history and your deadlines do not matter to them. They have their own priorities.

Annual report timetables are always tight with release dates restricted for many reasons. Therefore there is virtually no wriggle room for hiccups.

Early on let everyone involved with your annual report know:

  • Exactly what you are expecting from them, that is, information, approval of content, answer to queries, written text, statistics, typeset pages, photographs and so on
  • When you must receive it

Whatever happens you must not let your timetable slip. A good idea here is to actually put the required date a few days ahead of when you really need it – this can work like a charm.

Tip 4. Plan around simultaneous releases of information to the stock exchange
Information in some company annual reports must be released to the stock exchange at exactly the same moment as the annual report is released. Nobody must get preferential notice or the opportunity to take advantage by selling or buying shares on the basis of information that has not been released to the public.

You must make sure that all versions of the annual report (paper and online), the information for the stock exchange and the media releases are:

  • kept secure and confidential
  • released at the same time

Tip 5. Know who will be approving the report
Be absolutely certain you know from the start who will approve the content. If you have interviewed the right people and listened carefully, and have read documents produced during the year, you have a very good chance of a smooth approval process.

Because of tight deadlines there is no time for repeated submissions for approval. Consult along the way and try to give contributors and/or controllers only one opportunity for approving content.

Make sure, for example, that the person giving the final approval will be available on the day you require the approval, or preferable the day before, and will not be en route to New York.

Tip 6. Understand the theme or message of the report
Has the CEO, the board, the media or public relations unit decided on a theme that the text and artwork must convey? For example, ‘Celebrating innovation’ or ‘Our staff, our strength’. Not all reports have a theme, but if your report has one make sure all contributors to the report are aware of what it is.

Find out what the chief executives expect from the annual report. Do they want a report that:

  • Enables them to tick off that they have met minimum legal requirements, and no more
  • Meets legal requirements, promotes the organisation’s values and is a valuable marketing and public relations document for shareholders and prospective employees

Reminder about consistency in annual reports
All writing within your annual report must use the same words, spelling, abbreviations, capitalisation and so on. Consistency is important because it makes your readers comfortable.

Text with differing terminology and style can be very confusing and reduces comprehension. Inconsistency within an organisation can be controlled by using a company style guide and by using a supplementary style sheet for your annual report. Working with a copy of Indis will help maintain consistency. Advantages of using Indis as your organisation’s preferred online writing style guide

Next blog
In my next blog I will include more tips: finding out about the organisation; publishing bad and embarrassing news; publishing audited accounts; handling statistics; and producing an annual report for a government organisation. And there’ll be a reminder about the appropriate tone for annual reports.