3 Keys to Your Best-Ever Annual Report


Annual report season? Don't sweat it.

With Thanksgiving now a fading memory, we’re heading into the home-stretch of another year. 

For many among us, that means annual report season is about to get into full swing. Depending on your past experience, that prospect can either fire you up or reduce you to a puddle of sweat. 

No doubt, the annual report process can be stressful. Yet with the right approach, you can limit the angst and reap the many benefits of creating a solid and engaging report. 

Annual reports offer a great opportunity for your organization’s leadership to communicate with depth and context to key audiences. And while annual reports recap the results and accomplishments of the past year, they can also lay out the vision for the future and set the tone for the coming year.

We've found there are three keys to creating a great annual report while keeping stress to a minimum.  Here they are:

Start now: The time is here to start laying the groundwork for a great report. Top of the to-do list is establishing an execution plan and timeline that will allow you to tell your story in most compelling ways possible. Getting early buy-in and lining up the right resources can help assure you're well positioned to start building your report once you close the books on 2018.

Identify your secret sauce: What set you apart in 2018? What drove your strongest performance, and put you on the right track to future success? Every successful organization has niche strengths and key characteristics at the core of its success story. Take the time to define your secret sauce. Then find interesting ways to highlight it through relevant customer, donor, volunteer, client, or employee stories. 

Create a post-publication plan: Too many organizations publish their annual reports and then simply move on. That's leaving a lot of value on the table. Your annual report can serve to set the tone for the year ahead.  My blog post, 5 Easy Ways to Leverage Your Annual Report highlights some of our suggestions for getting more mileage out of your annual report all year long.

2018 will be over before we know it.

Creating an action plan now will give you the best opportunity to effectively tell your story of the year that was – while also laying out your vision to make the most of the one to come. 

Want to get moving? Connect with me to brainstorm -- or to get some inspiring examples to help get you started. 

Knock it out in November: Make Your Messages Matter in a Noisy Month

Image: Troye Owens via Flickr Creative Commons

Image: Troye Owens via Flickr Creative Commons

We’re just one days away from a mid-term election that’s drawing Presidential-cycle like attention in many parts of the country.

With that in mind, the next week or so is going to be pretty noisy, so plan your media outreach and messaging accordingly. 

Here's our quick guide to navigating the month ahead.

A Takeaway from the Campaign Trail
Election Day will reveal who will control the House and Senate. But its results will also help communicators get insights into who won the messaging war.

We’ve been providing communications support for a highly-watched House race and have already learned some timely lessons from this year's race.  I’ll be doing a more in-depth blog with some key takeaways after the votes are counted, but for now here’s a nugget that has relevance to all communicators trying to engage their audience:

Pitch the story, not the policy: Never underestimate the power of a compelling personal story. We found a highly effective approach to addressing a policy issue is to find ways to frame it with an authentic story. For instance, the candidate we’re working with lost his father at a very young age. His mother who had never worked outside her home, had to re-invent herself to provide for her three kids. Fortunately, Social Security offered a bridge that allowed her to keep her home and her family together. When told in this context, the candidate’s support for protecting Social Security takes on real, authentic meaning—and sticks with those who heard the story. 

Here are some other trends to watch as we move deeper into November:

Annual Reports: The Clock is Ticking
We’re a month into the fourth quarter – with the holiday season just a few short weeks away. If you’re involved with creating your organization's annual report, now is the time to start laying the groundwork for a smooth process and a stellar product. Here’s some recent advice about why now is the time to get to work

The Hard Sell is Getting Harder
A new study on brand supports the pressing need for organizations identify and promote their purpose rather than trying to force-feed their messages to consumers.

The 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study encouraged brands to connect their purpose with a relevant moment in culture as well as to confront a controversial issue that has direct impact on stakeholders and customers.

The study found that 64% of consumers identify as belief-driven buyers—a 13% jump from last year. Further, 84% of respondents said they noticed a brand communication when it engaged their attention compared to 16% who noticed it when it interrupted their attention. 

While these findings were focused on businesses, they are also relevant  nonprofits, particularly as they aim to capture their audiences attention ahead of Giving Tuesday on Nov. 27. 

Giving Tuesday and Small Business Saturday
Speaking of Giving Tuesday, November offers nonprofits a great hook for telling their stories in the media — and for connecting with their supporters. The same is true for small businesses with Small Business Saturday.

Ideally, you’ve already mapped out your communications and media strategy for these events.

But if you haven’t, it’s not too late.

Our team is happy to help you build a lightweight campaign this month — with an eye for how you can build relationships that will have lasting value in 2019 and beyond.

Contact me to learn more!

Spice Up Your Media Outreach With These Ingredients

A few excellent ingredients can help brand your leader as a media rock star. Flickr Creative Commons photo by   Enric Martinez   .

A few excellent ingredients can help brand your leader as a media rock star. Flickr Creative Commons photo by Enric Martinez.

There are three key ingredients to branding your organization’s leader as a media rock star.

We covered the first — a compelling origin story — this week in our newsletter.

But while an origin story can be incredibly valuable in capturing the imagination of journalists and audiences, to become a true rock star, it’s important to also include these two additional ingredients in your media relations recipe:

A Succinct Vision

While many media rockstars have a strong and interesting backstory, they are also able to connect that backstory with an equally strong and compelling vision for what they want to achieve.

Organizations such as Share Our Strength, which has a concise and clear vision -- to end childhood hunger -- are able to quickly convey their objectives and capture the attention of reporters and other journalists who are looking for sources.

If you can find opportunities to clearly connect your messaging and mission with an easy-to-grasp vision, you have a strong chance of branding your leader as a capable and strong spokesperson.

Smart, Focused Media-Relations Support

While a compelling backstory and vision can help capture the attention of reporters (and their readers and viewers), the most important ingredient is sustained media relations support.

Branding your leader as a viable source in the media requires skill, experience, and a true willingness to invest time and resources to support your leader and build connections with the media.

If you truly want to establish your expert as a thought leader, you'll need to develop and execute a thought leadership strategy that includes:

  • Creating original content by your thought leader. This can include research papers, speeches, blog posts, or even social media musings. The important thing is to make sure you can provide source material that shows your expert knows their stuff.

  • Coaching your expert. Not everyone is a natural in front of a microphone or camera. And even the most polished speakers often need help honing their messages and talking points. It's important to work regularly with your thought leaders to help them put their best feet forward.

  • Building relationships. Your thought leaders typically don't have time to cultivate relationships with reporters. That's why they have you. The most effective media rockstars have a strong promoter working the phones and helping establish the connections that will yield feature stories and interviews.

By taking these steps, you're not guaranteed to have your executive director profiled on 60 Minutes or quoted on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

But you will have a much greater chance at getting your leaders to appear more regularly in the outlets you care most about.

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Keep Your Audience Engaged: 5 Steps to Make Your Message Resonate

Keep Your Audience Engaged

The most effective communications aim to get people engaged, influence their behavior, and, ultimately, move them to action.

Too often, though, your targeted audiences end up like the geese in this picture I snapped the other day. The fake coyotes were enlisted to deliver a simple message – keep off the grass.

Clearly, as far as the geese are concerned, that message is no longer resonating.

As communicators and PR pros, we need to constantly work to ensure our audience doesn’t become a flock of indifferent geese. Here are some ways to make sure your messages don’t go stale:

Don’t just throw one pitch – Pitchers who throw only fast balls aren’t pitchers for long. It’s key to find new and different ways to deliver the same or similar messages. Focus on adding variety in how the message is positioned, who delivers it, and how it gets distributed. A blend of digital, print, video and even in-person communications helps ensure your message stays fresh and connects with the full range of your audience. 

Stay connected to your audience – As Peter pointed out last week, it’s essential to know your target audiences. Developing audience personas can be a game changer in terms of identifying your audiences -- and gaining a deeper understanding of what motivates them and how to reach them. Beyond personas, look for ways to gather ongoing feedback to make sure your messages are resonating. 

Avoid boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome – You can go overboard with trying to get your message out. Flooding your audience with messages, particularly if they are not very compelling or actionable, can cause them to check out. This is also true when you're working with the media. If you pitch the same reporters twice a week with mundane press releases, they may not be open to listening when you have a really compelling story to tell.

Make sure you hit the porch – Back in my newspaper days after we hit deadline a savvy old editor would often quip, “well it was all for naught if the paperboy misses the porch.”  Wise words. Even the best messages can’t get traction if they are not reaching your target audience. Make sure you know the right delivery channels and platforms to connect effectively -- and keep up to date with new ways people are getting information.

Monitor and measure — These days, people are getting bombarded with messages. As a result, they can tune out quickly. It’s essential to develop multiple ways to track and measure whether your messaging is resonating. That can include drawing insights from Google Analytics, tracking click and open rates, and measuring response rates or actions taken based on a particular message or campaign. It might make sense to establish an editorial advisory board, either online or in-person, or conduct some polls or surveys to gather more feedback.

Take it from the geese: Delivering the same message in the same way will bring diminishing returns. Be proactive and open to new strategies and tactics if you want to keep your audience engaged.