5 Secret Sauce ingredients for an authentic annual report

1 Sep 2017 by Mike Tisdall

Secret sauce v3

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.

Ravensdown, Vector and Mercury 2017 annual reports

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.

Mercury annual report 2016 opening spread

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. 

Mercury business model 2016

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