The Friendly Guide to: Better reporting

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Moving the goalposts!

Most companies have three goals in mind while they’re pulling together their report: complying with regulation, meeting best-practice standards and including the year’s key messages.

Balancing competing objectives can be tough. Here's five ways to give your readers more of what they want, and some useful tips to help you on your way…

  1. 1. Keep it balanced

Your readers know what other people think about your company, and will have views of their own. The report should offer a fair and balanced analysis of the business by acknowledging challenges and responding to criticism. This involves putting some clear blue water between the tone of the report and the tone of PR-led press releases. Reports should support key messaging, but there must also be room 
for light and shade.

  1. 2. Make things easier

Annual reports are often used as reference documents – very few readers will consume the whole thing. This means that navigation and readability ‘at a glance’ are important – if it’s too difficult then readers will give up. Worse, they may even go elsewhere to find information they need – not always from sources you manage.

  1. 3. Stay flexible

UK reporting regulations are actually fairly flexible, and shouldn’t stop you from telling your company’s story in a creative way. Habit and tradition more often get in the way of making the most of an annual report. For example, there is nothing at all to stop the Chairman and CEO saying something completely different year-to-year, and they don’t always have to be at the beginning of the report.

  1. 4. Pull together

Abrupt changes in tone and emphasis send the wrong signals to readers about how well the different parts of your business work together. One of the big benefits of the reporting process is that it’s an opportunity to agree on a coherent and consistent story about performance, plans and prospects, which can then be deployed throughout the year.

  1. 5. Explain anything unusual

Annual report readers are smart, comfortable with financial language and likely to be well-informed about your sector. However, they are unlikely to know all of the acronyms, abbreviations and terminology your company uses, so avoid these where you can. And be sure to explain abstract concepts (e.g. an operating model) early on, as these are tricky to grasp quickly, particularly when they interact with or reference other abstract concepts (e.g. a strategy or an economic model).

Its good to talk

Reporting isn’t easy. But we think that understanding and meeting your audience’s needs is the simplest way to produce better, more relevant reports. If you’d like to chat about your annual or integrated reporting priorities, we’d love to hear from you.