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Is It Time for a Radical Rethink of Your Annual Report?

A Challenge to NZ Organisations — is It Time for a Radical Rethink of Your Annual Report?

As the leader of Moxie, a creative agency that has 15 years of success in designing award-winning annual and corporate reports, I’d like to challenge NZ organisations to take a radical look at how they report each year.

All too often eyes roll and people glaze over when you suggest that Annual Reports can achieve the seemingly impossible; get people to drink in your organisational story and savour the bouquet, not wither on the vine from the severe drought of corporate dryness. The people who get this really get it. There are some incredible annual reports produced each year in this country, particularly out of the non-profit sector. Their limited budgets often foster the best creativity, meaningful themes are embraced with joy, not reluctance, and emotional connections are the currency du jour.

Still and all, I reckon many organisations still wallow in past thinking. Why not? There’s a degree of comfort in finding your rut, furnishing it and moving in — after all, it’s warm and safe in there! But instead of getting more comfortable, surely we should be fanning the flames of the reporting revolution. We need to get our heads around the power of the Internet to amplify our stories and achievements in this most critical of all corporate communications. We need to get online, people!

I don’t mean a tedious interactive PDF — who wants to read 100 pages in that format on their tablet? Forget flipbooks; like PDFs, they offer a monstrous user experience. So it’s down with the clunky download I say and let’s start thinking about how to leverage the full potential that only online can deliver. To be clear, by online I’m talking about a fully responsive microsite that will render on any mobile device.

Think what online audiences can get:

• The ability to access your key information anywhere in ways they now want to receive and read it via their desktops and mobile devices.
• Content that considers their time poor, information overloaded lives — multi-media videos, sound bites and gifs, visuals and infographics that quickly get them up to speed and notepads that allow readers to make notes as they read as well as glossaries.
• The choice to zoom in on the content that’s relevant to them and zone out of the stuff they don’t want. Few people read cover to cover anymore and online allows the choice of a high- level summary or a detailed full picture or anything in between.
• Kudos for sharing and commenting on stuff that others will enjoy or find useful via embedded social media buttons.

From an organisation’s perspective, online reports are searchable and remove the barriers to being found. If well done, they achieve better integration with your overall communications, embracing the user-friendly approach of showing not telling. They offer the option to develop data points and other content that can be used across your channels and optimise your investment in creating the content. Analytics and heat maps that allow you to see how people have engaged with your reports help in the creation of future reports that will better align with reader interests. Moreover, many stakeholders no longer want to see big, high production printed ‘books’ that look (and often are) expensive to produce. Going online often presents a willingness to embrace change and be seen as an innovator.

While it’s great to have a big design budget each year, where money is tight an online annual report can be designed as a reusable platform. And, nice though they are, you don’t need all the bells and whistles to give readers a great experience. The real alchemy is in taking a web-first approach. This is not just an exercise in converting a standard print report and chucking it into a microsite. It’s about designing features and functionalities used to leverage the best possible experience for the reader, allowing them to quickly and intuitively find the items that most interest them and the key points you need them to take away.

For many organisations in NZ, there’s still a statutory requirement to table a limited number of printed documents. It’s also a given that there are still people who prefer to read print versions — often that’s because the digital option is such a snore (still thinking PDFs here) and many would read them if they enjoyed the experience more. However, there are undoubtedly people who will never read an online report, however well crafted it is — they just don’t want to ‘go there’. To address this, Moxie has designed a highly versatile online reporting platform (ROAR — Responsive, Online, Advanced, Reports) that allows for a hybrid approach. We design once, starting with the online version, but our platform also automatically generates a high-quality print ready PDF where that is a requirement. Taking this approach throws affordablity into the bargain.

We’ve designed hybrid online and print reports for a number of organisations including New Zealand On Air’s 2015 and 2016 Annual Reports. Allanah Kalafatelis, Head of Communications at NZOA, says there have been many ‘wins’.

“As a multi-media funding agency, we wanted to lead from the front and show that a boring old reporting document could be much more interesting in an interactive online environment. But we wanted to do this without having to go through two separate processes — write/design/build an online report and then do it all again for a print document for tabling in Parliament.

“We wanted something clean and easy to navigate online, but that told our story and made the most of the excellent videos we have from funded content. The benefits were: we could do it once; for the first time ever we understood how many people actually read the report; in the long run we will save on print costs, save the trees, save the planet etc. We have taken the leadership position we sought — we really do want to show the way. Most of all, it is a better showcase for the content we fund.”

In my mind, it’s no longer about being an early adopter. It’s about the best way of engaging your audiences where they increasingly live. The number of people who don’t use the Internet is reducing by the year and the number of ‘Internet Aboriginals’ is growing proportionately. Whatever your approach — on-line, hybrid or off-line — the starting point is always in-depth audience understanding or you risk the old ‘build it and they’ll come’ trap that has be-devilled many beautifully crafted digital projects that have failed.


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