Wikipedia defines an annual report as “a comprehensive report on a company’s activities throughout the preceding year.” It is “intended to give shareholders and other interested people information about the company’s activities and financial performance.”
Companies (particularly those listed on a stock exchange) prepare these documents according to standard accounting rules in order to comply with regulations of various financial and taxation authorities, but more than anything, they are used to present a credible snapshot of a company’s finances over a short period of time, so investors and other stakeholders can understand and analyze the health and stability of the company.
Therefore, the only real requirement of an annual report is for it to present selected financial information. This would include the following (according to Wikipedia):
- Accounting policies
- Balance sheet
- Cash flow statement
- Contents: non-audited information
- Profit and loss account
- Notes to the financial statements
- Chairperson’s statements
- Director’s report
- Operating and financial review
- Other features
- Auditor’s report
More Than Just a Financial Snapshot
Over the years, annual reports have become much more than financial snapshots. Companies have sought to give stakeholders a more complete picture of the operations of their firms, including discussions of their environmental practices, management goals, corporate ethics, etc. All of these have been illustrated with breathtaking photography printed on thick coated press sheets by commercial printing establishments. Annual reports have become high-end magazines for the corporate set.
Custom Printing Considerations
If you are designing an annual report for a client, or for your employer, you may want to consider the following:
- Design with distribution in mind. Copies of your annual report will need to fit in standard or custom envelopes and be mailed. To keep prices down, consider various standard envelope sizes (avoid square envelopes, for instance, to avoid postal surcharges) and determine the appropriate enclosure size for the envelope. However, this does not mean that your annual report must be 8.5” x 11”. Sometimes a narrower or wider format will grab the reader’s attention more effectively.
- Choose commercial printing paper with photography in mind, and don’t hesitate to use more than one paper stock. For the introductory material replete with dramatic photos, you may want to choose a gloss coated stock to make the photos “pop.” For the text-heavy financial pages, you may want to choose a matte press sheet or a high-end uncoated paper to facilitate reading.
- Consider environmental implications. Sustainability is big now. You may choose a recycled, uncoated sheet to reflect your company’s sensitivity to environmental issues. Paper choice can send a message to readers, just as photography and color choice can.
- Consider quadtones instead of full-color. If you want to make your annual report look less opulent so as not to give company shareholders the impression that you spent their hard-earned money on custom printing, you can subdue the colors (perhaps use less process color). However, this doesn’t mean that the photos need to suffer. If you print the photos as four-color black/white images, you can increase their depth and expand their tonal range. This will improve detail in the highlights, mid-tones, and shadows. You can achieve this by using all the process colors to create the impression of black-ink-only photographs.
- Maximize the tactile quality of print. With all the hoopla about the death of print, producing an annual report can give you an opportunity to showcase the tactile nature of custom printing, something online media cannot offer. You can create textures by contrasting spot gloss varnishes against spot dull varnishes on images or text. Or you can give a relief texture to an element using thermography. Add a rough feel to a design element with sandpaper UV coating, or smooth out an area with soft-touch coating. Add depth with embossing or add sparkle with foil stamping. Use your imagination along with the plethora of new paper coatings.
- Ask your commercial printing vendor for a paper dummy. If you are using multiple paper stocks in your annual report, consider asking your printer for a paper dummy (cut to the proper size, with the proper page count). This will show you (and your client) just how the final printed annual report will feel in your hands.