Large companies with lots of shareholders tend to publish annual reports. Indeed, for publicly-listed companies, it’s a legal requirement.
These reports tend to be dense and hard to read. Granted, the financials obviously need to be presented in a certain way but, unfortunately, chances are the rest of the document will be full of chest-beating and meaningless jargon and staged glossy photos. Ugh!
The directors might fist bump each other in the boardroom to celebrate how awesome their company is; some employees might even glance through the document, along with journalists and market analysts if they find it relevant, but ultimately, as a rule the annual report serves as a great doorstop (if it’s still being printed!) but as a public communications piece, it tends to fall pretty flat. Opportunity lost!
YEAR IN REVIEW
But there are a growing number of savvy businesses that have taken the broad concept of the annual report, given it a content marketing sheen, and published an online year in review that is a joy to read (or watch if videos are included, which they quite often are these days).
The best annual reports are open and transparent accounts of how the organisation fared that year.
Yes, they are often celebratory, but in an interesting and informative way that is inclusive of the community that supports the brand, versus out-and-out chest-beating (to see what I mean, check out the examples below). Statistics tend to play a big role and taking a ‘by the numbers’ theme is common; big colourful images also seem to be de rigueur.
Sometimes they also contain some ‘warts’ as well. Take the example of Ohio-based Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. In 2015 the business had a health issue with one of its products. Rather than pretend it didn’t happen, Jeni’s covers the topic up front in its 2015 Year In Review not once but twice, under the headings:
- Voluntary recall of all of our frozen products on the market (link to story)
- Temporary closures of our production kitchen due to listeria (link to story)
But ultimately though, these reports are effective in taking people behind the velvet rope of an organisation, helping to humanise the brand and reinforce its values through written stories, photos, videos, charts and graphics.
HERE ARE A FEW EXAMPLES:
- Bright, colourful, quirky and lots of fun – a perfect reflection of the MailChimp brand.
- Heavy on the statistics and images, and covers marketing creative, product development, customer research, podcast sponsorships, staff training, promotional swag and pop culture references.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (and here’s the 2014 version)
- I really like Jeni’s approach to this signature content piece. As alluded to above, the company had a tough time in 2015 but still included the ‘bad’ with all the ‘good’ stuff that happened during the year.
- I also like the heartfelt way the company acknowledged its customers (see below) who supported the brand during the tough times.
- One read of Creative Market’s 2016 Year In Review will give you a great sense of how it goes about its business.
- The review highlights new team members who joined the business, how Creative Market partnered with GoDaddy to write and release a 77-page eBook, and, like MailChimp, items of promotional swag created during the year!
- I especially like how a good chunk of the online document is dedicated to the brand’s robust community, especially the people who sell their creative work through the Creative Market marketplace. For example, South African designer Nicky Laatz who crossed over the $1,000,000 in sales barrier for her fonts and graphics. You can check out the video here.
- Buffer do most things right when it comes to social media and content marketing. They are the epitome of a savvy ‘connected brand’ that provides great value to its growing community over and above its products and services, and the Buffer year in review online document perfectly reflects this.
- For its review, Buffer opted to cover the year in A-Z fashion, which allowed it to get pretty creative in how it articulated what 2016 looked like for the business.
- One massive statistic worth noting is that 261,419,836 posts were sent through Buffer’s proprietary social media scheduling app in 2016, the bulk of which by far was Twitter.
- Promo swag was also covered (there’s a theme here!): “We. love. swag. This year, we’ve sent: 1,294 cards, 530 t-shirts, 15,000 stickers, 254 Moleskines, 62 pairs of socks, 17 water bottles, 2 pizzas with the Buffer logo, a pack of Jolly Ranchers, and a bowling set!”.
- But on a more serious note, Buffer also highlighted its “Default to Transparency” company philosophy.
- MORE READING: Buffer’s 2016 Year in Review (and the 8 Year-End Reflections That Inspired Us) <— N.B. True to generous form, Buffer also lists those end of year reports that have inspired them, including Shopify (in infographic form), Ustream and Octoverse.
Publishing annual reports such as the ones highlighted above is a classic example of savvy content marketing for PR.
Content marketing is not just about publishing a blog, but looking at the myriad ways a brand can tell its story in interesting ways.
Maybe your brand should consider publishing a year in review report in 2017?