Annual reports: Choosing a theme for your next report

Annual reports can be much more than a document with dull statistics and financials. Tell a story to connect with your audience and win industry awards.

A theme for your annual report strengthens your key messaging and creates impact beyond just words.

A theme can make a bold statement and deliver significant impact. It should also align with your objectives and relate to your key achievements.

A theme is used in traditional literature to tell a story and communicate meaning. It adds meaning to your annual report.

A centralised theme will make your report stronger and more consistent. However, the theme does not need to be painted out in bolded capital letters or as the title of your report.

To connect and engage your audience, your annual report should tell the story behind who you are helping and how you are creating a positive impact on the world.

Annual reports provide an opportunity to look towards the future. They communicate the intention of where the organisation is heading.

Annual reports are a prime opportunity to highlight your organisation’s key results from the year that was and can be much more than your standard text heavy document loaded with dull statistics and financials. A key trend in the annual report world is to make your report an asset that remains memorable in the minds of your stakeholders and markets your brand beyond those who are purely interested in your financial performance.

So just how do you transform your report into an outstanding publication that connects with your audience and wins industry awards?

The answer is surprisingly simple. Tell a story.

And how do you tell a captivating and compelling story? With a powerful underlying theme of course.

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The power of an annual report theme

Choosing a theme for your annual report has the potential to dramatically transform your publication. Aligning your theme with significant events, milestones and objectives that were achieved in the year strengthens your key messaging and turns a once dull report into a captivating communications asset that resonates with it’s readers.

By executing and carrying this theme through all aspects of your annual report (visuals, copywriting, layout and digital versions) you set yourself up to create impact beyond just words.

Take a look at the theme Thirst used for The University of Melbourne Annual Report

Here are 6 of the most significant benefits of using a theme for your report:

1. Create impact

A theme can make a bold statement and deliver significant impact. The most important questions to ask yourself as you begin to think about and brainstorm creative concepts, is whether the theme of choice will deliver the impact you intend.

Does this theme have the capacity to talk to the emotional side of the brain and resonate with your audience? Does it carry a strong message? Does it align with your objectives and relate to your key achievements? If the answer is yes, then it is likely to help you achieve the results you are after.

2. Tell a story

Themes have always been used in traditional literature, to tell a story and communicate meaning. Having a theme for your annual report effectively centralises your key achievements and creates a logical order to sharing them. You start to build a story which people can engage with and clearly understand. It adds meaning to your report beyond financials and statistics.

3. Strengthen your language and tone

The written content of your report will also become stronger and more consistent when you choose a centralised theme. A theme can inspire the language that you use, your tone, your choice of headings, image captions and quotes you want to use.

However it is important to note that your theme does not need to be painted out in bolded capital letters or as the title of your report. Often a more subtle and fluid approach will work best - subtly weave your theme throughout your report so that your reader begins to feel something and connect with what you are presenting in the way that you intend.

If you need help creating a theme for your annual report, take a look our packages here.

4. Humanise your brand

A goal of your annual report should be to connect and engage your audience. To do this successfully, It’s important to remember that your audience are human! Your readers have limited attention spans and don’t always respond well to long-winded slabs of text, confusing looking tables of data or figures that are too hard to interpret.

Your audience will appreciate transparency - this means that they want to know more than just how you are performing and what you are doing. They want to know the story behind who you’re are helping and how your organisation is creating a positive impact on the world.

Think about using a theme that conveys the humanity of your organisation. Highlight your core values, showcase your people and focus on any activities that demonstrate social responsibility.

5. Communicate your future objectives

Annual reports are much more than just reporting facts from the past year. Your annual report provides you with an opportunity to look towards the future and focus on the objectives that your organisation wants to achieve in the coming years. A theme can communicate and set the intention of where your organisation is heading.

6. Opportunity for innovation

A theme presents the opportunity for you to showcase your annual report in new and unique ways, especially when it comes to the numbers, stats and figures you are required to include.

The innovation angle is especially true when it comes to digital annual reports. A theme on digital can be beautifully executed and even brought to life. From subtle movements and themed pop-ups, to videos and data visualisations, your theme can lead the digital strategy for your online annual report.

Think about how your theme can bring about unique opportunities for your audience to digitally interact with your report.

7. Direct your internal team

By choosing an annual Report theme, you do your internal team a favour. You can clarify a direction for the content you include, the images you share, the colour you use and even the way you go about promoting your report to the media.

Read more about digitalising you annual report and creating memorable online experiences

Tips for selecting your annual report theme

A strong theme is often one that makes a powerful underlying statement. One that represents a core idea or value.

It can be quite a challenge to develop a theme for your annual report but there are plenty of things you can look to for inspiration, including:

  • Identifying your key takeaways from the year: What are the key items you want your audience to understand and take on board from reading your report.
  • Identify your most outstanding results: Was there a pattern in your results that could be transformed into a statement around the impact your organisation had over the past 12 months? For example if you are a health organisation that has achieved helping a record number of NDIS patients, your theme could be centred around creating a positive impact on that community’s quality of life.
  • Look at your business objectives and strategic direction: what objectives were set for the year. Which one best represents your organisations values? Inspiration for your annual report theme can also come from the direction you are planning on taking. If this is the case, this year’s report may demonstrate the achievements towards this direction.
  • Know your audience and what is important to them: When setting a theme, your goal is to create an emotional connection with your reader. Make sure you know your target audience, what's important to them and, ultimately what are they are interested in reading about.

If you need help creating your annual report, take a look our packages here.

How to visually communicate your annual report theme

Now that you have done the hard work to pinpoint your theme, you need to consider how you will go about communicating your theme visually. This is where the fun begins and through the power of design you can really bring out the strength of your theme.

When it comes to visual communications, consistency is key. It’s important to look at every visual element and ensure it is designed in a way that contributes to your story and brings your theme to life for the readers eye.

The key visual elements to convey your theme and communicate a clear message include:

  • Colour scheme: Select a colour palette that effectively communicates the tone of your report, aligns with your theme and reflects elements of your brand. Colours can elicit emotional triggers so it’s important to choose colours that represent how you want your reader to feel when reading your report.
  • Image style: The style of your images will set the tone for your report. For consistency, it is good to select two - three image styles and stick with them throughout the report. When it comes to large publications like an annual report, it is great to get a professional photographer involved as they can capture the essence of your organisation and convey your theme visually.
  • Layout: Space and structure will not only affect how your publication is read but also how it is perceived. Aim for a simple structure that guides the reader through your organisation’s story. When it comes to digital annual reports, keep the User Experience (UX) front of mind. Ensure information is easy to consume and exactly where people expect to find it.
  • Infographics: A well designed infographic can showcase information, timelines and data in a captivating way. Infographics are the perfect opportunity to bring in your overarching theme and highlight key facts with illustrations and online animations.
  • Video: If you are taking your annual report online, video is a great way to communicate your message in a captivating way. It is important to keep your video style consistent throughout your whole report.
  • Visualisations: Digital annual reports are a hot trend, and for good reason. They enable you to bring data to life in ways that cannot be done with print reports. Data visualisations can encourage interaction and grab attention to highlight vital information and key takeaways.

Our team assisted the IPC Health with their 2021 annual report and designed a series of infographics to communicate their key figures and statistics in a way that visually engages their readers.

If you’re still after further annual report inspiration and would like to view some publications that our team have executed in the past, check out the case studies below:

More information on our Annual Report packages here

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