10 Tips for Positioning Your Annual Report in a Banner Year

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For many companies, this year’s annual report will feel something like a victory lap.

The stock market’s bull run has become a stampede, smashing record highs time and again. As of this writing the S&P 500 Index is up 14.52% year to date, with strong returns rippling across most sectors.

Barring any last-minute calamity, most annual reports will come bearing good—if not great—news for shareholders.

Of course, amid the investor euphoria it may be tempting to view this year’s report as a slam dunk. Roll out the great news, sprinkle in a few notes of caution about the future unknown, and call it a day.

Yet, we would argue that positioning an annual report for a good year can be every bit as challenging as doing so in one when your shareholders got clobbered. It’s essential to be thoughtful and strategic, both in advising your leadership and executing the report itself. 

Here are 10 things to think about as you consider how to tell the story of a banner year.

1.     This one will get read. Everyone likes a winner, and odds are your shareholders will be still basking in the glow of solid returns when your annual report arrives in their mailbox or e-mail.  Unlike tough years, when some shareholders first instinct might be to pitch the report in the circular file, many will be eager to dig into the breakdown of what led to your success, and how you aim to maintain it. Make sure every aspect of your 2017 report shines, and that the content reflects your strength, showcases your management team, and reminds shareholders why they invested in you in the first place.

2.     Don’t go overboard on your theme. The tricky thing about annual reports is that they typically come out well into the new year when the economic landscape can be decidedly different. So instead of rolling out the ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner, consider a theme that highlights your momentum and strengths, rather than just focusing on great results.

3.     Be true to your voice: Analysts and serious investors love nothing more than consistency. Keep that in mind when framing the approach and messaging of your report. While it’s OK to highlight great results, make sure the tone rings true with how your leadership has been talking about your company on quarterly calls and throughout the year.

4.     Play up the good news. Don’t be afraid to tout your success, but make sure you do so in a way that is authentic and acknowledges the benefits of a sound economy and unprecedented stock market.

5.     Don’t bury the bad news. With strong results making headlines, the temptation will be there to ignore or gloss over any significant challenges that may have affected the business in 2017. Resist it. Address the hurdles and missteps head on, and make it clear how you are attacking them moving forward. Your shareholders and analysts will appreciate your candor, and you will benefit from the cover of strong overall performance.

6.     Focus on what sets you apart. Michael Scott could have run a company this year and shown positive gains. Well, that may be a stretch, but it’s essential to highlight actions you took to differentiate from your competitors and how those actions made a good year even better.

7.     Show you're playing the long game. The phrase ‘past results are not an indicator of future performance’ is never far from a savvy investor’s mind. The smart companies are always preparing for rain, even when it seems like the sun will never stop shining. Highlight the proactive moves you have made to thrive – or at least limit the pain – in any economic conditions.

8.     Manage expectations. You don’t want to burst everyone’s balloon, but in the wake of what may well be a once-in-a-lifetime year for stocks, a solid dose of reality is in order. Make sure your CEO’s letter frames out realistic expectations of what is ahead.

9.     Show you care. A great year offers a prime opportunity to demonstrate how a rising tide lifts all boats. Make sure to highlight concrete examples of how you are fulfilling your company’s purpose beyond the bottom line through community involvement and charitable work. Acknowledge the contributions of employees, show appreciation for your customers, and let your shareholders know the ways you are engaged with the communities you serve.

10.  Create a report that works all year long. It’s not just shareholders who can benefit from an annual report. Your report highlighting your strong year can be an essential tool for your sales team to share with clients, or with HR to show to prospective hires. It can also serve as the foundation for your content and marketing efforts moving forward. Make sure the report is designed and presented in a way that offers the best ROI.

History tells us that it is unlikely we will see a stock market like 2017 any time soon—or ever again. Make the most of it through a well-crafted and well positioned annual report that works for you all year long. Then go ahead and take that victory lap. 
 

Scott Westcott is Corporate Practice Leader for Turn Two Communications.

Annual Report 2017: The Clock is Ticking

Starting your annual report now means less stress and a better product in the new year. Flickr photo by William Hart

Starting your annual report now means less stress and a better product in the new year. Flickr photo by William Hart

If you have any experience with creating an annual report for your company or nonprofit, you know that deadline pressure is inevitable.

After all, you can’t describe the previous year’s results until your books are closed.
As a result, if your fiscal year ends on Dec. 31, late winter is always going to require some heavy lifting to get the annual report done.

But you can make that lift quite a bit lighter — and produce a much better report — if you don’t wait until January to get started. It makes good sense to start the process in the window between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, whether you are developing a traditional, digital or hybrid annual report.

Here are just a few reasons why...

Less stress: You’ve probably been there. The busy holiday season fast approaches and the to-do list overflows. December somehow slips by as December tends to do. When people re-focus after the first of the year, it’s fire drill time. No doubt, the entire annual report process can be completed in the first few months of the year. Happens all the time. Yet, the deadline pressure can amp up the stress level, while limiting your options and creativity.

A better blueprint: The role of annual reports is evolving. While the Form 10-K is a regulatory requirement for U.S. public companies, the supporting content and context is optional. While some organizations have opted for a bare-bones approach, many others are gaining renewed appreciation for the unique value of annual reports as a once-a-year opportunity to address the “state of the company” and clearly articulate management’s forward-looking strategy and plans. By starting now, you have more opportunity better assess the strategic objectives of your annual report, as well as ample time to line up the right resources to execute on that approach.

Improved ROI: By getting started earlier, you can lay the groundwork to better leverage your report in a variety of ways. For instance, sophisticated B2B customers often need to understand the financial health and strength of their business partners and vendors, so some companies develop their annual report with their sales force in mind. In addition, engaging annual reports can be useful tools in the recruiting and hiring process.

Stronger messaging: An effective annual report should be well aligned with your leadership, IR, and marketing messaging. Starting the process before year end offers more opportunity to assure the annual report theme is in-sync with strategic messaging, while also identifying ways the theme might be leveraged further. For instance, publication of your annual report can kick off an ongoing content marketing campaign aimed at investors, customers and prospects. Check out our earlier blog about how you can get more mileage out of your annual report.

No matter what, you’re still likely to feel the squeeze of deadline pressure in the annual report process. Yet by getting an early jump, you can be confident that the end result will be a report that tells your company's story in the most compelling and engaging ways possible -- and will keep delivering value that lasts the whole year through.

Start now – you’ll be thankful you did.

How Can Nonprofits Collaborate More Effectively?

Nonprofits can't solve big problems on their own.

They need partners.

Give.org realizes this -- and it partnered with Turn Two Communications, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and scores of local and national nonprofits to lead a conversation about how the field can more actively pursue collaborations.

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After meeting with nonprofit and business leaders and hearing their stories, we've been struck by a number of examples of charities that are partnering with companies and with organizations outside of their missions to achieve some impressive results.

Unfortunately, many of these innovative collaborations are happening by chance.

But they don't have to.

Give.org and Turn Two are just two examples of organizations and companies that are finding ways to bring groups together around shared goals.

You can learn more about collaboration by watching Give.org's video series -- and by checking out my piece in Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Exploring Our Past to Improve Our Future

I had the opportunity to author a reflection on the first day of the National Forum on Family Philanthropy, a gathering of about 450 family foundation officials organized by Turn Two client The National Center for Family Philanthropy.

The message is one I think is relevant to everyone, so we're cross-posting it here.

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns/Creative Commons

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns/Creative Commons

No matter their mission, family foundations exist to create a better future.

But their vision for the future is often shaped by the past — by the triumphs and tragedies of their founders and the subsequent experiences of the generations that follow them.

As the family foundation world gathers this week in Washington for the National Forum on Family Philanthropy, it does so at a critical time for the field — and for our country.

During the Forum’s first day, we were challenged to take a closer look at our collective past so we can better understand how to navigate these challenging times.

The day’s bookend events — a conversation with the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and the powerful discussion about race and equity at the National Museum of African American History & Culture — examined our nation’s imperfect history and pushed many of us to think about how our families fit into this history.

For some, the day’s events served as a reminder of their family’s journey out of slavery and into an America that continues to stack the deck against their success.

For others, it meant opening the closet to find the Confederate uniform worn by one of their ancestors.

For me — the descendent of Italian and Irish immigrants who arrived in this country after the Civil War — it meant advancing my own understanding of the advantages that have shaped my life and reinforcing the responsibility I have to help create a more equitable America for future generations.

The timing of these lessons couldn’t be more appropriate.

Many of us feel overwhelmed by the news of the day — of mass violence in Las Vegas, white supremacists in Charlottesville, deadly hurricanes, and debates over health care and immigration and tax reform — it’s easy to forget that now is not the first time our nation has felt deep division.

The Civil War and Vietnam offer perhaps the most obvious examples.

And Burns, who has created documentaries on both, reminded us that our nation not only survived the Civil War and Vietnam — but that we moved forward after these events with the idea that things would get better in the future.

Burns noted that this has the key theme of the American story: That we are a great, yet flawed, nation that continues to evolve and improve.

Today, many of us worry this storyline has ended and that America’s best days are behind us.

Our nation seems to be growing more polarized by the day and is rehashing old battles many of us thought were behind us.

In looking at our history, however, we can draw encouragement that we will continue our journey toward a better future.

But doing so requires much more than looking at the past. It requires us to take bold action.

And that’s where we come in.

Each of us are here at the Forum because we have a calling to make the world a better place — not just through exploring our history, but through bringing people together around a vision for the future.

For family foundations, these troubled times present challenges and opportunities.

The challenges are clear.

But families also have the opportunity to use their considerable resources to lead conversations that bring people together and take actions that will improve our communities — and our nation.