Why disclosure is a great business improvement tool
As we published our first annual report, Head of Stakeholder Reporting, Claire Fraser, reflects on the value of disclosure to a business.
Why report? For many, it’s a simple answer: because the rules make you. In this world, corporate reporting conjures images of hefty documents, driven by regulations and codes, resulting in a backward-looking compliance document.
However, this undervalues the important role of disclosure as part of a company’s journey and building and maintaining trust with your stakeholders. At Emperor, we believe stakeholder reporting is an important element of corporate and financial transparency and an essential management discipline. And more than that, it drives better business.
It does this through a number of ways:
- Encouraging greater accountability and ownership, and the development of robust strategies
- Improving transparency
- As a catalyst for integrated thinking
- As a tool to help us embed a company’s purpose, vision, values and strategy across the business
- Improving engagement with stakeholders
- Creating a single point of reference that captures all the different initiatives
- By setting out commitments for the year(s) ahead
- Aiding in talent attraction by presenting an honest window into the business, culture and ethos
Your report is more than a document of record; the process can help create better business practices. It’s also an investment in communication assets that can be used year-round.
A contract of trust
After 25 years as an independent agency, Emperor decided to practice what we preach and publish our first annual report. As a non-listed business, Emperor is under no obligation to report. So why did we do it? Alongside the reasons above, in January 2020 we became an employee owned business and our annual report acts as a contract of trust with our stakeholders.
It was achieved at a rapid pace, from concept to publication in 54 days. Now, with the dust settled, we can reflect on the value of the exercise and hopefully offer some pointers to other companies – whether you are about to undertake the exercise for the first time or are a seasoned reporter, reviewing how you can get more from the process.
Bring out your culture
The key is to take a focused approach, being clear about your overarching message, objectives and audience – for Emperor, that is primarily our people – and undertaking disciplined content planning and storyboarding.
For us, the overarching messages were around employee ownership and the role of our partners; our journey to this point and our ambitions for the future. We wanted to capture our strategy and performance over the past year, and clearly set out our commitments for the year ahead.
The report needs to bring to life what makes the company special; your purpose, culture and values. As part of this, we focused on one of our values, ‘Creativity everywhere’, to showcase our experience and expertise and create a digital experience that reflects the direction of travel in reporting, while amplifying the range of voices from around the business.
Designed to be different
‘Digital first’ is a phrase that’s used often, so it’s important to think about what this means in practice – particularly as reporting contains a lot of content-heavy information.
We took a two-channel approach. Thinking about the online experience, we wanted this to bring our messages to life through interactive storytelling, UX and micro interactions. This wasn’t about lifting and shifting all the content online, but thinking about how to make that content even more personal and engaging, how we could use movement, video, animations and effects to highlight key points and take readers on a journey.
We then captured the full report and all the detail in a landscape PDF, which is better-suited to on screen viewing. Each landscape page was designed in such a way that if we chose to print, the pages can be stacked to create a shorter portrait document.
As always, there were some challenges to overcome during the process. For us, the key three were agreement on positioning, capturing the relevant data and getting the numbers signed off.
While a lot of the content and information existed in pockets around the business, pulling it together and refining everything into one clear narrative took time. Ensuring the photography and graphics reflected the diversity of our business and wasn’t too heavily weighted to one specialism or geography was another.
Collecting relevant data for KPIs and performance metrics, calculating this to our year end and capturing year-on-year comparatives was another challenge. Our learning from this was that if you use different systems and software for data capture, try to reconcile any discrepancies as early as possible and consider future metrics you may want to capture.
As always, getting final sign off on the numbers caused some delays!
Maximising the value of disclosure
Applying the rigour of best-practice stakeholder reporting to ourselves has not only reinforced our business beliefs, but demonstrated how to get full value from disclosure.
Our golden rules are to begin with a clear view of who you’re reporting for and why, storyboard your key messages and contact your content contributors early. Be clear about the data you want to capture and why, what is it showing/tracking and build in the time to gather this.
Think about interactive storytelling – what can you do to bring your story and messages to life, and how can digital and multimedia enable this. Getting input and perspectives from internal stakeholders not involved in the reporting process is also invaluable.
And lastly, always build in more time than you think you’ll need!
This article was first published in the IR Society's Informed magazine on 8 April 2021.