Annual Reports: Bridging Content and Reader with Design

An interview with Reto Schneider, CEO of Neidhart + Schön Group AG 

Does a good annual report need to be full of pictures and stories? Print or digitalhow does a company select the right channel for its annual report?

We explore these questions and more in this interview with recognized annual report expert Reto Schneider, Chief Executive Officer of the media solutions company Neidhart + Schön Group AG.

Reto Schneider

Reto Schneider

Annual Report Design & Conception

What are the specific steps that you take when a company commissions you to create a concept for its annual report?

Our first step is to ask what the strategic purpose of the annual report is and who the target groups are. The more precise the objective, the more successful the concept will be. The main theme, the common thread, and the imagery are worked out on this basis.  

It's important that we get to know the organization so that we can tailor the work processes and our service package to the company’s specific needs. Our designs reflect the character of the company to convey authenticitynot just to investors, but also to other stakeholders who are readers of the annual report.  

In the next step we define the right channel strategy: online first, print first or online only? This allows us to include in the design concept functional requirements that arise in the production process. For example, which design and which implementation processes enable the most efficient way of working for the output channels selected?

The general rule for us is that design is the bridge between content and reader. The goal is to make even complex content comprehensible and appealing to guarantee that the annual report is read, and that people enjoy reading itand with the right media mix. 

An annual report not only conveys facts and figures; it also helps to polish a company’s image. How should a company design its annual report so it can grab readers' attention, get them enthusiastic, and make a lasting impression on them?

The top priority for an annual report is its credibility. It must fit into the overall context of corporate communication and be a part of an integrated strategy. An annual report comes in many forms. It can be emotional or rational. Or it can be fancy or subdued. We determine the look and feel of the design as well as the tonality on the basis of strategic considerations, together with our clients. This means that an annual report doesn't always need to be lavishly produced and full of photos and stories; rather, we attach importance to an individually tailored design language.  

Given that the presumption of competence arises in the mind of the reader, though, there are certain principles that are generally valid, and certain things that are must-haves to convince readers: A clear design, a consistent design concept, graphics that are understandable and provide a rapid insight, a solid typographic design and, of course, excellent, user-friendly textfor both the speed-reader and the intensive reader. 

Print, digital or both: How does a company decide on the right channel or channels?

The focus must be on analyzing who the readers are: What is the information that our most important target groups need? Can I serve these various groups differently, or is there an approach that covers all requirements? Of course, in a second step, the company behind the annual report also plays a role. Here we are talking about the budget, the personnel, and the time required and available for creating the report.

Ultimately, it's about communicating effectively. This means that, with the optimal channel mix, there is the greatest amount of visibility among the target groups (effectiveness)with processes that are as lean, secure and repeatable as possible (efficiency). This is also what we focus on in our advisory role. There is no right or wrong when it comes to choosing the channel. The selection depends on the cost-benefit assessment of the client, based on needs. That's why it's important for us as an agency, and for our clients as publishers, to keep an eye on the needs of the target groups as well as on the development of media technology. That’s one of the reasons why every year we do an investigation of the online reports of the 50 largest companies in Germany and Switzerland. 

What trends do you predict for future annual reports, from concept, design and creation to the type of content?

I think the digital transformation will bring with it many new ways of communicating that will become more relevant to corporate reporting.

  • After an initial phase of discovery of various digital features in the online area, there will be a healthy mix of design and function. 
  • Depending on the target group, the feel and the physical experience will again play a bigger role, although increasingly with new formats. For example, this will include annual report magazines, summaries and leaflets that will supplement and enhance the digital edition. Print is definitely not going away over the next few years. 
  • There will be a great emphasis on multimedia content and design. With the watchword "more efficiency and greater focus on the target group" in mind, content has to become more reusable. 
  • The placement and editing of content will be selected more strategically both in print and online to boost confidence in reporting. An appropriate presentation of risk and a clear business model will become even more central. 
  • The importance of illustrations and infographics for the visualization of complex issues as a differentiating feature will increase. For example, the European Communication Monitor 2017 reported that 90% of communicators believe in the growing importance of strategic visual communication.

About Reto Schneider

After his initial education in the graphics field, receiving a degree as an EurEta engineer and postgraduate studies in marketing management, Reto Schneider worked for several years in corporate consulting. As CEO of Multimedia Solutions (now mms solutions ag), he was responsible for the operations of ns.publish (editorial system for annual reports) and vigorously pushed ahead with the development of the product until it became market leader in Switzerland. Today, Reto Schneider is the CEO of the media solutions company Neidhart +Schön Group AG. He is also initiator of the Annual Report Symposium and founder of the Center for Corporate Reporting (CCR).

About Neidhart + Schön Group AG

Neidhart + Schön Group AG is a team of specialists in corporate communications and is a market leader in innovative print, online and multichannel productions in corporate publishing. With its unique total package comprised of forward-looking conception, smart IT solutions, award-winning design and reliable execution, NeidhartSchön bridges the gap between technology and aesthetics. The goal is to reduce the client’s work load and to improve results.

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