Revving Up to Revive Your Annual Report

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A publishing team from the Dental Trade Alliance Foundation and the Journey Group shares how to invigorate your annual report’s design and content so that members will actually read it.

By Gary W. Cramer

The Catch-22 presented by annual reports is a familiar one for communicators at many associations, large and small. Even if organizational stakeholders spend less than a minute flipping through it before shelving it with the previous years’ installments, they expect a pleasingly designed, energetically messaged, and thoroughly fact-checked report — as long as it doesn’t look like it cost too much to produce.Faced with limitations in staffing and budget for handling the not-inconsiderable work that goes into generating a rousing (or at least informative) report year after year, some associations default into a mode of simply updating the minimum necessary amount of data for covering the ground and slapping some new pictures into the previous year’s (sometimes years’) layout. The result is stale reports that become indistinguishable from one another and are even less likely to be read with enough attention from enough recipients to be worth the time and expense involved.Presenting a case study at the AM&P 2015 Annual Meeting on how to reinvigorate the thought and production processes behind delivering share-worthy annual reports were Laura Fleming Doyle, CAE, executive director of the Dental Trade Alliance Foundation, and Mike Ryan, design director with the Journey Group. Staff from the foundation and the design firm collaborated with the vision of "an engaging piece with a concise theme, appealing art, inspiring stories, and valuable information — all in an inventive form.”

"We enjoy thinking of annual reports as artifacts that people will want to keep,” says Ryan, adding that a great report asks, "How do I avoid ending up in the trash?”

Although an annual report is obligated to look back at the previous year, a good one takes the next step to inspire audiences using forward-looking stories to reinforce an organization’s vision in an educational manner. It will likely also feature content devoted to transparent statements of overall financials, news on leadership changes, donor lists, and commemorations of important achievements — all geared toward instilling in readers a sense of credibility and loyalty regarding the organization.

Highlighting the 2014 Dental Trade Alliance Foundation Annual Report as an example of what good association/vendor teamwork can accomplish, Doyle admitted that earlier reports on the foundation’s activities had fallen into a design rut. "We were just printing an annual report because we had to,” she says. "It looks suspicious if you don’t have one.”

The work of producing the latest, appealingly colorful and creatively packaged report benefitted from "looking down the road” to see what form could be carried over from year to year to create the sensation of a collectible item that people would want to save and revisit. From the design side, the process included holding a "client-interest conversation,” developing a project brief (with an overview and details on the report’s goals, requirements, related projects, team members, costs, scheduling, etc.), assembling a team (with account executive, project manager, creative lead, designer, and videographer for filming segments to tie into the report), and allowing time for discovery.

Outcomes from the discovery phase included the realization that curation of a year’s events is a good way to go (i.e., not every event needs to be covered, and brevity respects your audience’s time demands); that the report did not have to be in a traditional book form (the foundation’s 2014 report ended up as more of a self-enclosed booklet); that the addition of an educational insert would make the report more useful to many recipients; that original artwork could be mixed with photography to suitable effect; and that even the report’s theme of whole-body health in relation to oral health could be visualized properly, given enough thought.

With such design emphases being well-planned by the Journey Group, it was up to the foundation staff to find the perfect story involving the organization’s activities from the past year to illustrate the theme. This led to an introductory feature story that profiles some of the personalities involved from both the provider and patient sides, as one program in Pennsylvania is shifting the paradigm of infant oral care with support from the foundation.

"The end result has been a big hit,” Doyle says. "I’ve never had people call me and ask for extra copies of the annual report before.”

As a final takeaway, the presenters stressed to their AM&P audience that after all the work that goes into crafting an annual report, finding a way to weave and bolster its theme through activities that follow throughout the rest of the year "really makes a difference.”

Gary W. Cramer is associate editor for the Association of Clinical Research Professionals. For a stretch of years in the late 1990s, while working as a writer/editor on donor relations projects for the Pennsylvania State University, he often cursed the fates who decreed that a new annual report had to be produced every year. Association Media & Publishing sincerely thanks him for covering this 2015 Annual Meeting session for our members who were unable to attend.

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