Barr's report by Navy Blue (above)A whole year of ups and downs, goals and own-goals, profits and losses condensed into one document, the annual report is one of the most important tools of client communication. Within its pages is the information that will shape how clients and competitors alike view a business.
While there’s no hiding the truth, the annual report does offer the chance for a company to put forward its results in a positive light. And, more importantly, it affords the chance to reflect the ethics and values of the business.
Now in its eighth year, The Drum’s Scottish Annual Report Prize has become a hotly contested competition, showcasing the best in design and production of that most important piece of corporate literature.
As in previous years, The Drum headed south to ask some of northern England’s leading creatives to cast a critical eye over the work submitted by their Scottish counterparts. This year, however, a financial expert was added to the judges to provide the viewpoint of those at that whom the reports are aimed.
So, the final panel this year consisted of Spencer Buck, creative director of Taxi Studio; Alan Herron, creative director of True North; Andrew Lodge, design team head at Brahm Design; Mairi Clark, editor of The Drum; and George Watt, group financial director at SMG, providing the financial forte.
Every report entered into the competition was assessed on a number of clearly defined criteria: layout and design; use of pictures, images, tables and charts; use of paper; clarity of text and overall impression. The marks of the individual judges were then combined and averaged out, before being compiled into a league table (right).
From the results, it is clear that the success of an annual report often comes down to the commissioning client as well as the skills of the agency. More often than not, it is the sheer weight of information needing to be conveyed that can make or break an annual report.
Yet, as the results from each of our individual judges also proved, there’s more than one way to analyse the success of an annual report. As the judges pointed out, it is difficult to compare – like for like – the work put into the annual report of a charity client, for example, and that of a top FTSE 100 business.
Another point worth raising was the difference in the way the creative and financial experts rated a report. While financial director George Watt was looking for drivers to the important information contained within these often weighty documents (as well as the appealing aesthetics of the report), the creative judges were drawn more to the style, idea, flow and layout of the piece. The resulting scores made for interesting reading...
George Watt, group financial director, SMG
Trying to make a judgement on, say, Clyde Valley Housing Association against an FTSE 100 group such as HBOS is not really fair on either organisation as their reports are aimed at different audiences with different regulatory requirements in mind. However, in terms of a winning report, my view is that Forth Ports plc stood out from the others.
For me, it was a clear winner in terms of clarity of presentation and layout, and it had a very clean feel to it. It was also obvious from reading the report what the business does – a very important element of any annual report and one that some companies failed to achieve. The use of photography was very good throughout, and I felt the graphs and tabular analysis were strong.
The financial section was also very clear, and the use of white space worked well. The designers broke up the lines of the document well to make it more interesting to read, and it was easy to find your way around the report.
In general, it is always difficult for a plc to meet the reporting requirements and regulatory backdrops it faces without the report feeling somewhat boring or the text being too tight. However, Forth Ports managed to achieve this, pulling out the soundbites from the report in sub headlines very well. My only comment is that a photo on the front cover would have topped it off.
I would also commend Severn Trent plc and Sports Scotland, both of whom ran Forth Ports close and are worthy runners-up in my opinion.
Alan Herron, creative director, True North
The National Trust for Scotland stood out for me. This report has been afforded the time, the budget and the commitment from the client to allow designers to create an excellent piece of work.
The pace of the publication stimulates you to turn the page to see what’s next. Beautiful photography and informal sketches help things along, but the report itself is only the container for great colour, typography, illustrations, photos, the material used and the quality of printing, and I know how difficult it is to make all of these elements work well together.
You could call the design old fashioned, but I’d prefer to call it classic. The beauty is already there in the subject matter – all you have to do is capture it and put it into a document, which they have achieved. Well done – I’m sure I should be afraid of the competition.
Andrew Lodge, design team head, Brahm Design
Two reports stood out for me: the Royal Opera House’s Promise Fulfiled and Bethany Christian Trust’s I Am. Although both pieces are produced for charities, they couldn’t be more different.
The Royal Opera House is a beautifully crafted piece. The foiled and embossed cover is a really nice, subtle touch. Every aspect fits very well together, and you really get a feel for the richness and passion of the Royal Opera House.
However, there is no substitute for an idea, and Bethany Christian Trust has just that. Its report is presented in a standard A5 format and printed in full colour with no specials or foil blocking – no gloss, straight to the point. It is all very appropriate given the subject matter. I loved the portraits too.
Spencer Buck, creative director, Taxi Studio
Has the craft of annual report design really lost its appeal to designers? It seems, in many cases, the job was handed to designers with the least creative spirit to turn out what could have been a truly magnificent communication. I kept finding myself thinking: “What if they’d done this?” or: “I can’t believe they missed that.”
I judged purely on creative execution at the end of the day. And hats off to The Royal Opera House: a promise certainly fulfiled. Concise, interesting and delightful. Well done.
Mairi Clark, editor, The Drum
For me, Barr Soft Drinks stood out. While the other reports for charities such as the Royal Opera House and Bethany Christian Trust are beautifully designed, their objectives are different to the bona fide plcs they are judged alongside.
By showcasing the products alongside figures, I got a feel for the company and its staff and its attitude to its market. An iconic Scottish drink, it could have wandered down the tartan route, but instead went for a fresh, futuristic approach.
Click here to see the full table of results as well as the top three reports and their individual scores, as chosen independently by each of the five judges.