AIM 100: Putting strategy at the heart of your reporting
Why effective strategy disclosures are an opportunity to tell a clear and compelling story to your stakeholders.
As regulatory developments add layer upon layer of disclosure to annual reports, the need for strategy to be the thread that binds reporting together is critically important. If purpose and vision are a company’s north star – why the company exists and what it seeks to achieve – then strategy is the roadmap of how to fulfil them.
A well-communicated strategy allows prospective and existing stakeholders to evaluate what management and the board deem critical to the long-term success of an organisation and its stakeholders, how the business has performed, and areas of focus for the future.
In our recent research into AIM 100 corporate reporting, , we examined the first set of December year-end reports and communications to be published, and identified some of the key trends and interesting examples of good practice.
We also distilled four recommendations for how to develop your communications:
- Tell a joined-up and consistent story
- Get serious about sustainability
- Balance your reporting focus
- Bring your reporting to life
Although these apply to your whole cross-channel corporate communications, there’s an opportunity to address all of these specifically with effective strategy reporting.
Tell a joined-up and consistent story
The clarity and cohesiveness of communications – within and across channels – reflect the clarity of thinking in the organisation. Companies that set out their purpose and vision, and how strategy and other elements align to fulfil those, are more likely, are more likely to attract capital and talent since they make it easier for existing and prospective stakeholders to understand the organisation, what it seeks to achieve and how it plans to achieve this.
Indeed, within our sample, 27% have broadened their conversation around purpose, talking about it in more detail and situating it within a framework to show the they are achieving long-term success for stakeholders.
In addition to this interconnectedness, it is important to explain the strategic relevance of information within the individual sections of your reporting, to enable stakeholders to focus on what is material to the success of the organisation.
The market overview is a good example. 70% (up from 50% last year) provide a dedicated section and it is good to see companies drawing out the implications of external trends for corporate strategy and risk management, making it easier for the reader to understand the significance of market opportunities and challenges.
Get serious about sustainability
With sustainability becoming a higher-priority issue for companies and stakeholders alike, more businesses are integrating material sustainability issues into their business strategy, as a strategic pillar or as a guiding principle underpinning all the company does. A fifth (21%) currently do this, but it is a clear direction of travel in larger listed companies and we expect AIM companies to follow suit.
This does, however, need to be authentic and supported by evidence. Companies not genuinely operating with sustainability as a core part of decision-making risk being out of step with peers as stakeholders including investors, employees and customers increasingly favour companies who operate responsibly, and are quick to call out greenwashing.
Balance your reporting focus
Following changes to regulations and guidance introduced in the wake of high-profile corporate failures over the years, stakeholders expect and demand transparency, more forward-looking information and longer reporting horizons. The pandemic, climate change and Brexit have magnified investor appetite for information to evaluate a company’s long-term strategy and viability, at the same time as making this ever more difficult for companies to provide.
Some reporters are reluctant to divulge much about their strategic priorities, for fear of revealing commercially sensitive information or being held to account. But external strategy reporting is about outlining important drivers of long-term success rather than detailed plans and forecasts. 57% of our sample do now include explicit plans or objectives for the coming year – although that means for many there is opportunity for improvement.
That drive for transparency has extended to discussion of risk, with 85% (up from 59%) supplementing their principal risks and uncertainties with broader discussion of risk management. However, only 30% explicitly discuss emerging risks to present a comprehensive picture of long-term viability.
Bring your reporting to life
Strategy provides rich source material for engaging reporting, with opportunities to include ‘strategy in action’ case studies. Our research show 52% currently use these to spotlight key initiatives and demonstrate performance, as well as providing a window into how culture and stakeholders contribute to this.
Using a Q&A format or quatations can introduce the voices and perspectives of stakeholders, while companies can enhance storytelling further by considering a multimedia approach, complementing written examples with film or animation for use across different channels.
A clearly articulated and holistic strategy is the cornerstone of good reporting. It is not unusual for boards and management to find that the process of thinking about how to explain strategy and ensure it aligns with purpose, ambition, values and sustainability priorities can help crystallise their thinking. This leads to a more consistent and connected overall narrative, with strategy at its core.
We’d love to discuss how Emperor can support you in articulating and communicating your strategy as part of your wider reporting suite. Email [email protected]
For more insight into the latest trends in AIM 100 corporate communications, you can read our research Seeing a bigger picture.
Read more in our series of AIM 100 articles:
Five top tips for companies taking action on diversity
The opportunity and challenge of communicating culture