Annual Reporting is Beach Reading

Written by in Profiles


Working with colleagues Richard Colbourne, Michelle Steg Faranda and Eliott Saltzman, design director Jason Miller teamed up with Neenah to create their report on the trends in annual reporting. The poster ships inside a sample package containing four model annual reports. The kit showcases the versatility and uncommon beauty of CLASSIC Linen.

Says Miller, “Addison is an independent branding and communications agency. Among other talents, we have a particular strength in helping our clients tell their stories in meaningful and memorable fashion. Even the really corporate ones — sometimes no easy feat! One of my greatest joys is designing the Neenah Paper annual report. I’ve worked on the past three, and the next one is underway.”

Miller said he also enjoys less serious stuff like “looking at art, taking pictures and buying expensive books…. what else?

Jason Miller is Design Director at Addison knows how to get attention. His interview follows:

Against the Grain
So, please tell us more about how you conduct your research into annual report use and practice. You tell us in the promo you review more than 1,000 such publications. Are they mailed to you? Do you spend equal time with on line versions — and videos? How long does this take? Do you have a war room where you spread these things out and get a visual comparison? What kinds of folks at Addison actually conduct this onerous (and tedious) task?

Jason Miller
Without giving too much away, we actually do receive about 1,000 printed annual reports in the mail during the course of the year and, yes, only two people in our marketing department log them — two folks survey certain format and content attributes, largely during the summer months. Fortunately, these two are the type of personalities that actually enjoy reading annual reports at the beach, so it works out well. We also spend time looking at other online annual reports and interactive presentations. The result of all this looking and poking about is a fine snapshot of the year’s reporting. We then analyze these with prior year’s reporting to find trends insight into the state of the shareholder communications world.


Against the Grain
When you speak of a “suite of materials” that combine the purposes and messages of financial reports, sustainability reports, philanthropic reports and such, do you believe it wise to consolidate these publications into fewer publications or keep them separate? How do you keep the messages distinct? For which companies have you recently created such a suite of materials (using Neenah Paper, of course!)?

Jason Miller
The suite approach is not for everyone. It depends on the message and the audience. For our client Time Warner, we did a separate annual review, philanthropy report and corporate responsibility report in order to reach three distinct audiences. For other companies a “one report” approach is best, and we do see this as a growing trend among a group of companies whose CR reporting is considered as important as their AR reporting; combining these two reports into one lends gravitas to the unregulated CR report and underscores the company’s commitment to maintaining and reporting on sustainable activities.

Against the Grain
You speak of the SEC mandate for “plain English” and information design in financial reporting. Do we truly want an official in a cubicle making decisions about what plain English and clear information design actually are? One creative communication solution could be considered Rococo to one critic but by another as sleek and minimal as a Van der Rohe high rise. Can we find effective and subjective guidelines to define “clarity” in writing and design?

Jason Miller
Yes. It’s not as “Brazil” as you describe — the movie, I mean, not the country. The degree of obfuscation in regulatory docs is quantifiable, through several tests that are available. We look more towards the science of plain English and info design and are able view it objectively. Style matters aside, we believe that clear and effective communication is pretty easy to recognize.


Against the Grain
You quote Security and Exchange Commission’s official James Freeman as saying, “I’ve been the Investor Advocate here since January of 2006 and I’m still trying to find retail investors who read this stuff.” Your report is well written and full of solid advice. But it is a lot text on one page. Who do you think will read it carefully (besides yours truly, those of us here at Against the Grain)? In a world of Tweeters, is language lost?

Jason Miller
Good questions. I like posters a lot more than I like “trends reports,” and I believe most designers are with me on this. So we decided to turn our trends report into a poster. I should also mention posters are much easier to hang on the wall than a trend reports. As far as the actual copy, we worked with our writer pal Austin Howe to give it some personality, but even the most thoughtful and entertaining prose about annual reports (which we fully intend this to be) is not exactly pleasure reading (except for our previously mentioned marketing people, of course, who read it at the beach).

So, in order for this thing to have a prayer of being noticed, it needed to first arrive in an interesting and surprising format. It needed to be slightly curious, and it needed feel a bit like a gift to the reader. That’s why we made it a poster on beautiful, shiny linen paper (CLASSIC Linen White Pearl 80lb text, to be exact). That is why we use 24pt body copy and purple ink.

We think people will notice. And we think some of them might even hang onto it. And for those folks that just cannot bear to read text in increments longer than 140 characters, we’ve boiled the whole thing down into a single statement, that runs on the other side of the poster: “Annual Reports Are Hot*” (its true!) But as far as the whole printed-page-versus-tweeted-text thing, we believe that most often, paper connects more meaningfully (and beautifully) than web content, through texture, color and permanence.

There will always be a place for paper, to expand, express, remain. Perhaps paper will even be “rediscovered” by a generation bored with fleeting thoughts on screen.

  1. 01
    Aubrey K. said:

    Miller’s last sentence hits the nail on the head! Ink on paper for otherwise “unpleasurable” reading is a great way to get people’s attention, especially if the copy and design are well-executed.

  2. 01

    This is awesome. How do I get a copy of this poster?