Annual report time rolls around with perfect regularity… whether you like it or not. And there’s no getting around the fact that it’s a huge, time-consuming, often exhausting task. As Julie Andrews sings in The Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning.” Because we all know it’s a very good place to start. Even for integrated reports.

The very beginning

Start with last year’s report. You may have thought you’d never have to set eyes on it again, but this is the natural point of departure. Take the opportunity to critically assess your report.

Take a look at the big picture:

  • Did you go overboard on content or were you patchy in areas?
  • Was the document easy to navigate?
  • Did the information follow a natural progression?
  • Did the information in the report ‘hang together’ or did it feel like different people had written different parts?
  • Did your document represent the organisation accurately – both visually and through the content?
  • Did it achieve want you needed it to achieve as an integrated report?

Home in on the detail

  • Was your content interesting, engaging and readable?
  • Was anything missing or was anything included that shouldn’t have been?
  • Did the style, tone and language use convey who you are as an organization?
  • Were the style, tone, and language used appropriately for your audience?
  • Were headings, sub-headings, images, graphics, icons and colours used to enhance the readability of your document while being cognisant of your CI?
  • Is your text coherent, cohesive and consistent?

Once you’ve had a good think about all of this and done your gap analysis, scan the environment. Take a look at a few recent integrated reports but don’t limit your review to your industry. Look out for award winning examples.

Once you’re done, you’re ready to pick up your pen.

Put your framework together

The framework should ideally be directed by the strategic approach of the organisation. After all, the point of integrated reporting is to demonstrate integrated thinking “the active consideration by an organization of the relationships between its various operating and functional units and the capitals that the organization uses or affects.” (The King IV Report on Corporate Governance for South Africa 2016).  With the guidance of the managing body, you will need to:

  • Include your standard disclosures, e.g. chairman’s report, CEO’s report, into your framework
  • Outline your strategic objectives and the capitals.
  • Decide on the types of content you want to insert into the framework
  • Start gathering your various content elements to tell the story you have created with the framework

Compiling the report

  • Consider the audience – who you are writing for – before writing your first word. This will ensure that you pitch the content at the right level, with the appropriate use of terminology or jargon, word choice, etc.
  • Determine your key messages in order to guide the writing process and assist you with sourcing the appropriate content
  • As you may be sourcing content from multiple resources, it’s a good idea to use a single writer or editor to bring a consistent voice and style to the text
  • Determine a theme and style to be drawn through the visual and written elements of the report.
  • Ensure connectivity of information is clear  (explain the relationship between the financial and the environmental, social and governance performance)
  • Use icons to link information and improve connectivity of information
  • Use graphics wherever possible, especially infographics, to make your report more visually appealing and to convey information more simply
  • Take note that King IV™ has an ‘apply and explain’ approach which differs to that of King III

Remember that the ultimate goal of your integrated report is to “enable stakeholders to make informed assessments of the organisation’s performance and its short, medium and long-term prospects”. (The King IV Report on Corporate Governance for South Africa 2016).