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The 2020 Annual Report: Difficult year, tough assignment

by | Nov 30, 2020 | Expertise

In any “normal” year, the annual report is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on great achievements, goals reached or exceeded, and bold strategies realized. But there’s nothing “normal” about 2020. Many companies, including Cleveland Design, took a hit to our financials and our goals flew out the window as we scrambled to respond and rethink our daily operations. For companies with underperforming results due to the pandemic, the prospect of reporting financials and achievements presents real challenges. Yet, in some ways, the 2020 annual report will be more important than ever. When have investors and other stakeholders needed more reassurance?

Your annual report is an opportunity to connect with your stakeholders and communicate not only how you have addressed the challenges of the past year, but also to give reassurance on strategies for the coming year. I would be surprised if any of your stakeholders were shocked at your financials taking a hit. But I would be surprised if they didn’t expect a clear message on how you steered the ship—including how you handled the safety and welfare of your employees, partners and customers. They also want to know what the plan is for the foreseeable future.

In our discussions with clients and colleagues, we came up with a few tips to help navigate the challenges of creating an annual report for 2020.

Tell your story and be transparent

Relying on the tone and content of past years won’t necessarily work to reassure your audience for this year. Being transparent about the challenges the pandemic presented to your company and industry and how you responded will create a crucial context to your 2020 story. After all, the primary goal of an annual report is to allow the organization’s leadership to communicate directly to stakeholders, many of whom have faced similar challenges this year. So, tell it like it is.

Focus on what mattered in 2020

It’s normal to want to play up successes in an annual report. This year, those may be in short supply. Instead of bold callouts on big goals and strategies, consider devoting space to issues that took center stage in 2020—including the welfare of employees. There’s plenty to focus on, from new ways of working to maintaining a positive outlook (which is critical to maintaining employee engagement and productivity). Giving a greater focus in this area and to safety, health and sustainability initiatives is a good way direct the narrative of who you are as an organization and leave a level of trust with your audience.

Tap the full value of design and visuals

Great design in your annual report can help tell the story and establish your brand as one that can weather the storm. Imagery can relate the value of your company in a brief look, and good infographics and charts can help put your information into a snapshot that is easy to understand. Showing the strength of your brand to your stakeholders is more important now than ever. One of the smartest ways to do this is through great design.

Here at Cleveland Design in Boston we are currently having conversations with clients on how best to approach design and content for their annual reports. We would love to hear what tone and focus you are taking for your upcoming report. Reach out to us and let us know, or feel free to contact us to help with your strategy.