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5 Secret Sauce ingredients for an authentic annual report

01 Sep 2017 by Mike Tisdall

Telling your story powerfully is central to brand strategy, and when Mercury rebranded last year, their annual report was one of the first vehicles off the rank. Now winning the accolade of ‘Best International Annual...

5 secret sauce ingredients for an authentic annual report mike tisdall

telling your story powerfully is central to brand strategy, and when mercury rebranded last year, their annual report was one of the first vehicles off the rank. now winning the accolade of ‘best international annual report’ in 2017’s global arc awards, the report reinforces our assertion that annual reports are one of a company’s most powerful brand positioning assets.

it is now the key lens we look through when discussing investor communications with clients - because the annual report has become so much more than an investor communication. one ceo briefed me last reporting season that he wanted his annual report to be his new 'international calling card' because he had such a new and different story to tell. we delivered that in august.

when this 'corporate repositioning' trickle trend started to turn into a rapidly flowing river lat year, i asked myself whether the annual report was the right vehicle for this task - wondering whether a corporate profile and website upgrade wasn't the more appropriate approach. and then i realised that the annual report is being seen as the 'ultimate corporate profile' - because it has the gravitas, the stamp of corporate authority, signed by the board itself to send the strongest possible signal that this is who we are.

in august we launched two other reports with perception-shifting goals. the first was for vector - a report that signficantly changes the game in terms of what business they're in. and the second was ravensdown's first integrated annual report - taking a highly authentic approach by lifting the shrouds and exposing their soul. another report that will shift people's perceptions of the company.

we first saw the power of this 'brand soul' expression in the first integrated report we produced for sanford in 2014. the respect for sanford accelerated rapidly over the weeks and months following publication. the perception needle shifted demonstrably and people looked once again at the company and saw it with fresh eyes that matched its fresh leadership. this report too went on to win many awards, locally and internationally.

so what's the secret sauce here that has made these reports really 'work' for the companies behind them?

  • first, it's leadership. like all such things, it starts right at the top.
  • second, it's authenticity. these companies don't try to pull any wool. they embrace the notions of corporate citizenship, shared value creation and 'doing the right thing' and have embedded these values deepy within their company cultures. it ain't ever lip service. it's genuine behaviours, their core belief systems, the way they naturally think. and more and more, it's about transparency - believing that honesty and openness will win out over any concerns about feeding strategies to competitors. they've come to realise that a competitor might be able to copy a strategy, but they can't copy the 'package' of authenticity that gives it true differentiation. the companies are simply organised this way, from the top down. and they hire the right people who think incredibly responsibly. at the end of the day, it's about 'trust'.
  • third, the companies' strategies and visions are exceptionally well conceived and thoroughly thought through. they're elegant in their cohesion, with no hint of hedging bets, commercial dilution or dissonance.
  • fourth, the visions, values and implementation strategies have utter clarity and are very simply articulated - internally (critically important) as well as externally.
  • fifth, they work with us to clarify and amplify that articulation and adopt powerful storytelling techniques - both visual and voice.

we've shared our stories about vector, ravensdown and this year's mercury reports elsewhere on this website, but by way of explaining the above theories in practice, here's a little background about how we went about last year's mercury report that has just been judged last year's best international annual report by arc. 

the 2016 annual report was the first major publication following their rebrand from mighty river power, expressing everything the new brand stands for. it set the tone for how they wanted to be perceived from that day forward.

because the brand shift from mighty river power to mercury was so visually striking, our challenge was to not spook investors about the change but to clearly show continuity while boldly illustrating everything had changed under the new brand. no easy ask.

we made the new brand the hero, unfolding the brand story over the opening three spreads. showcasing the visual identity and positioning the brand as a new expression of their ongoing customer-led business strategy was key. 

a new strategy spread and business model diagram were introduced to tell the continuing investor story in a fresh way, more aligned with a more dynamic retail-led brand. magazine style case studies were used to showcase the brand story in action, highlighting how the core aspects of the brand manifest themselves every day in 'what matter most.' 

see our full case study in our work section

arc awards, best international annual report 2017, mercury 2016 annual report, insight creative

Awards. Who cares?

29 Aug 2017 by Steven Giannoulis

Having recently announced a whole string of national and international awards for our work, it’s strange to be sitting here wondering, who really cares? Obviously, we do. The question is, who else cares and why? ...

awards. who cares? steven giannoulis

having recently announced a whole string of national and international awards for our work, it’s strange to be sitting here wondering, who really cares? obviously, we do. the question is, who else cares and why?

our design team cares about awards. for them, they represent recognition from their peers: people they admire, aspire to be like and whose work they covet. it’s recognition of a designer’s creativity and therefore, it’s a source of both self-satisfaction and motivation.

for the wider team, awards are about meaning. they’ve worked hard to manage a project to time and on budget, to lay out all the various elements and to produce the different components. award recognition says it was worth it and that their hard work contributed to something that mattered.

as a business leader and a strategist, awards are a measure of quality and effectiveness. they say we are doing something right in the way that we run the business, the people we hire and the way we structure our processes to deliver great ideas, executed beautifully. effectiveness awards, in particular, acknowledge that we are doing the right thing by our clients, delivering results that justify their investment.

we often think about awards in terms of reputation. last year we undertook research with prospective clients and it was clear that a ‘pool room’ of awards didn’t drive them to pick an agency. i think about my own experiences on the client side, selecting new agencies. awards were never a consideration. they came more into play after deciding, providing a post-decision reinforcement that i had made the right choice.

but clients sure love it when you win awards with their work. it reinforces their individual self-worth as marketers and communicators, telling them they are doing a good job. and it gives them a tool to go back to the accountants and other peers who struggle to see the full value they deliver to their business. and of course, it reminds them they are working with the right agency partner.

our industry really cares. awards represent best practice and a celebration of what we collectively contribute to our economy. i am often frustrated (and vocal) about how creative awards are handed out. we celebrate the latest, the weirdest and the boldest, often ignoring a work’s obvious failure to communicate effectively or to deliver the results the client commissioned it for.

despite all this gusto, i still get an immense sense of pride for me, our team and our clients, when we win an award. and it’s this pride that makes us all care about winning awards.


awards, insight creative, best awards, arc awards

More international awards

22 Jun 2017 by Mike Tisdall

At the Australasian Reporting Awards held in Melbourne on 21 June, two of Insight's clients were recognised for their successes. Sanford The  2016 Sanford Annual Report  won the Integrated Reporting...

more international awards mike tisdall

at the australasian reporting awards held in melbourne on 21 june, two of insight's clients were recognised for their successes.


the 2016 sanford annual report won the integrated reporting category and a gold award. it was also a finalist for both the sustainability reporting award, and the supreme report of the year.

here are a few of the judges’ comments:

“an excellent, well rounded application of the integrated reporting framework, with a good balance of narrative, tables, graphs and stories making the content reader friendly.” integrated report award

“for such a large complex organisation organisation, this report presents a picture of simplicity.  the coverage of areas of material interest to sanford stakeholders is exemplary.” gold award


nz super fund

the 2016 nz superannuation fund annual report won a gold award and the public sector governance category. the supporting annual review microsite was also a finalist in the online reporting category. this repeats their success at the 2016 awards.

ara, awards, annual report, integrated report,

Massive success on the world stage

18 Jan 2017 by Mike Tisdall

When Graphis recognises your work as world class and publishes it in their respected biennial book, you know you're doing quality work. And we've been there a few times before over our 40 years. But to see six of...

massive success on the world stage mike tisdall

when graphis recognises your work as world class and publishes it in their respected biennial book, you know you're doing quality work. and we've been there a few times before over our 40 years.

but to see six of our projects in one book, with five golds and one silver - well, even we were feeling pretty good about what we come to work every day to do!

(with thanks to sanford, ebos, stand children's services and vital healthcare property trust for entrusting us with you communications).


graphic, annual reports, gold winner, insight creative

Silver for Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei

18 Oct 2016 by Mike Tisdall

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei's 2015 Annual Report suite has been awarded Silver in the 2016 Best Awards among an elite field in the Ngā Aho category. Ngā Aho is the Network fo Maori Design professionals who partner with...

silver for ngāti whātua Ōrākei mike tisdall

ngāti whātua Ōrākei's 2015 annual report suite has been awarded silver in the 2016 best awards among an elite field in the ngā aho category.

ngā aho is the network fo maori design professionals who partner with the designers institute of new zealand to award design that reflects a clear understanding of who we are and where we are in our unique corner of moana nui a kiwa, the pacific ocean, and that results from meaningful collaboration. 

a full case study tracing the communication strategy and creative solution for this project can be viewed here.

overall, insight creative achieved four finalists in this year's best awards.


ngati whatua, best awards,

And we win again, and again, and again and again

11 Aug 2016 by Mike Tisdall

NZ may not be doing too well in the Rio Olympics, but Insight is winning golds, slivers and bronzes where it really matters: the New York based international Annual Report Competition (ARC Awards). Gold: ...

and we win again, and again, and again and again mike tisdall

nz may not be doing too well in the rio olympics, but insight is winning golds, slivers and bronzes where it really matters: the new york based international annual report competition (arc awards).

gold: sanford. the best combined annual and sustainability report in the world (they don’t have an integrated report category yet):


silver: nz super fund. with no gold awarded, it's still the best pension fund annual report in the world:


silver: stand children's services. the second best charitable organisation annual report in the world:


bronze: auckland international airport. the third best airport management annual report in the world:

this is effective design that is driven by the collective collaboration of our strategists and creative talents. you can read in depth case studies on the gold and silver winners here on this website. to help you find them easily, we've collected them together for you right here.



arc awards, design awards, annual reports

Awards, awards and more awards

22 Jun 2016 by Mike Tisdall

Last week's Australasian Reporting Awards (ARA) resulted in massive success for every one of our clients who entered (all two of them!) But 100% success is still 100% success. And as Insight is the common denominator,...

awards, awards and more awards mike tisdall

last week's australasian reporting awards (ara) resulted in massive success for every one of our clients who entered (all two of them!) but 100% success is still 100% success. and as insight is the common denominator, let's draw this achievement to your attention.


nz super fund

not only did the 2015 nz super fund annual report receive a gold award (one of only four new zealand companies to receive a gold), it also won best of two categories in the special awards:

winner, governance reporting - public sector, and

winner, online reporting - public sector

and all this on top of last month's win as best annual report in the 2016 asia-pacific excellence awards

view the printed report case study here, and the online version here.


sanford limited

our sanford integrated report also made a big impact at the awards, also winning a gold award, and also taking out a total of three categories in the special awards:

winner, sustainability reporting award - private sector

winner, integrated reporting

winner, ara hong kong sustainability award

view our case study on this integrated report here.


congratulations too, to the only other new zealand company to win a special award: watercare services (sustainability reporting award - other).








ara awards, sanford, nz super, winners

It's raining Gold!

27 Aug 2015 by Mike Tisdall

Insight has been awarded two Golds in the New-York based ARC Awards – considered the Oscars of the annual report world. World’s Best Airport Management annual report for 2014: Auckland International Airport (...

it's raining gold! mike tisdall

insight has been awarded two golds in the new-york based arc awards – considered the oscars of the annual report world.

world’s best airport management annual report for 2014:
auckland international airport (click for case study)

world’s best pension fund annual report for 2014:
nz super fund (click for case study)

the nz super fund report also won gold in the australasian reporting awards (ara awards).

naturally we're proud as punch of the respective teams that worked on these two projects, including our clients who enabled us to do such winning work!

arc awards, awards, nz super fund, auckland international airport

Insight scores five of the Best

19 Aug 2015 by Mike Tisdall

The 2015 Best Awards finalists have been announced and we’re thrilled to have scored five finalists in five different categories: Business Communication: 2014 Stand Children’s Services Annual Report Small...

insight scores five of the best mike tisdall

the 2015 best awards finalists have been announced and we’re thrilled to have scored five finalists in five different categories:

business communication: 2014 stand children’s services annual report

small brand identity: ibby 2016 international congress

design communication: new zealand symphony orchestra 2015 season marketing collateral

colour award: new zealand symphony orchestra 2015 season marketing collateral

self-promotion: ‘pause’ christmas video


design, awards, best awards

‘Stop Press’ article on our new Stand branding project

28 Apr 2014 by Brian Slade

Stop Press, 5 July 2013 Marketers could be excused for thinking that not-for-profit (NFP) sector brands learn from commercial consumer brands, not the other way around. However, developing a new brand for a...

‘stop press’ article on our new stand branding project brian slade

stop press, 5 july 2013

marketers could be excused for thinking that not-for-profit (nfp) sector brands learn from commercial consumer brands, not the other way around. however, developing a new brand for a long-established nfp organisation has been a salient reminder of the wider, strategic roles that a brand can play.

rebranding is not something that a nfp organisation undertakes easily. there is one school of thought that says not a single dollar raised by the concerned public should be used to build a ‘brand’. whereas anxious nfp chief executives are balancing these concerns with the worry that if they do decide to build their brand, their limited resources won’t cope with increased demand the extra attention could create.

and finally, the commercially-averse nfp leadership team believes that building their brand will diminish their separation from the commercial world, removing the vital essence of the not-for-profit relationship with its sponsors and stakeholders.

for these reasons, when te puna whaiora children’s health camps, one of new zealand’s longest running social services, initiated a brand review, it required complex thinking and an even more intricate process than would potentially be employed for a consumer brand.

first we had to ask “what is the role of brand in the nfp sector?” and the complexity of the answer challenged our consumer brand thinking.

nfp brands are now so much more than fundraising tools. management teams are being asked by their boards how their brand is contributing to their social impact, to their external trust, to partner/sponsorship solidity, to internal unity and to capacity.

an nfp brand also needs to perform numerous roles and appeal to multiple audiences. the brand must help the nfp acquire more financial, human, and social resources, and galvanise and help construct key partnerships.

the visual identity is only the first step in the journey to developing a strong nfp brand. it’s the organisation’s ‘shop front’ and is critical to building its ability to change the world on behalf of their cause. however, it is the brand essence that is the ‘call to action’ and a constant reminder of the nfp organisation’s mandate to do things their way; to be brave, and speak out.

knowing the brand story and buying into it also helps ensure their partners and supporters do things their way too and do nothing to undermine the brand’s integrity. most importantly of all, an nfp brand needs to instill a sense of pride in all who engage with it.

the brand developed for te puna whaiora children’s health camps – stand children’s services (stand) – is no exception. from day one, the rebrand inspired a step change within the organisation. it has given stand the opportunity engage with their stakeholders, tell a fresh story and remind them of how important their work is to the community. in a nutshell, it has reframed their call to action and has reignited passion.

in developing the stand brand, insight had to consider a much larger and more varied group of stakeholders than is usually considered when developing a consumer brand. those making a financial or voluntary contribution (funders) aren’t the ones who will experience the nfp’s core promise. they aren’t necessarily looking for a “what’s in it for me?” and yet, at the same time they have a stake in ensuring the brand represents something they wish to be associated with, is professional and portrays the right image.

secondly, a nfp organisation has to be democratic in its management of its brand; harnessing and providing boundaries for enthusiastic members, volunteers and participants, while ensuring it minimises brand anarchy. te puna whaiora children’s health camps actively engaged with all key stakeholders and their feedback was critical in shaping the final identity.

the response from stand’s stakeholders has been overwhelmingly positive. positioning statements “stand for children” and “a world strong for children” have become rallying cries for change. the organisation is reinvigorated, with staff operating with stronger pride and an even greater sense of urgency. politicians, funders and other child-support agencies have also noticed the change and are actively asking “what more can we do to stand for children?”

insight also had to be cognisant of the fact that nfps don’t have the level of clarity between brand functions the commercial world does. managing the brand isn’t simply the responsibility of marketing or ommunications. the entire team have to be custodians of their brand’s identity and be budding brand managers and brand builders.

the brand framework also has to be more fluid as often the cause, the organisation and the offering are synonymous. the visual elements must be adaptable to allow tailoring to the need of the audiences and specific messaging, while instilling a level of brand consistency. such adaptability is also essential for the inevitable use of the brand by social media.

stand’s strong visual image with a bold colour transition, a strong word mark, expressive typography, photography and graphic elements allow for this.

the inspiration for the name was new zealand’s totara. the ‘king of tane’s great forest’ stretches high above the dense canopy of broadleaf trees and protects the other trees from storm damage. the inspiration for the bold colour transition was stand taking the children on a journey from darkness to light.

‘stand’ helps explain the organisation’s unique proposition: they stand together to bring hope to new zealand’s most vulnerable children; they help children and families stand up and be strong; they stand against isolation and fear; they take a stand, acting with urgency to deliver solutions that make a child’s world safer, happier and healthier place. and finally, they nurture dreams and aspirations of our nation’s children, allowing them to find their turangawaewae ‘their place to stand’.

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