Friday, March 11, 2011

Annual rites of spring

Spring is known for many things, one of the more esoteric being corporate annual reports. I eagerly await their arrival in my mailbox and welcome the faint aroma of ink on the pages. (Yes, I like the printed book best, even though I often also view the online version.)

While each book, each year is different, they're all alike in one way: their reputation takes a beating. Financially savvy folk love to denigrate the publication. “I never read them,” they say. “I just ‘file’ annual reports in my recycling bin,” they smirk.

Too bad. That’s their loss. If they read only the cut-and-dried legal financial forms, they miss getting a more rounded view of the companies they follow.

Every element of every book is a clue that speaks to the personality behind the name on the cover. What theme was chosen as a headline for the year? Do the photographs of people and products help to better visualize the brand? How well does the writing convey not only what the company has done, but why it made those moves...and what's next?

When I want to know about a company, I check the annual report. Not just the financials, but how it chooses to present itself each year to a wide variety of audiences. Is this a company I would want to work for? Invest in? Purchase products and services from? Trust as a member of my community?

It’s hard to tell the real picture of a company from any one year, but year after year, a personality emerges. That's true even with accountants and lawyers and auditors scrubbing the book of bold, declarative statements to make sure it’s safe, defensible content.

I’ve been writing annual reports for more years than I care to count, first as a corporate staffer and now as a freelance writer. And every spring, along with daffodils and tulips, I wait for the annual reports to arrive.

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