We use 16 criteria to assess annual reports, grouped into the four categories you see here.

As we’re a creative consultancy, we use our skills and knowledge to arrive at a unique, qualitative judgement. We acknowledge that this is a subjective view and that other views are available – but it’s guided by experience and focused by a deep-seated belief in the value of communication. HDISU isn’t a tick-box exercise in compliance. Instead, we’re able to judge the quality, depth, transparency and coherence of content, rather than simply identifying that the content in question is present. As with many other comms projects, what the audience takes away from the experience is not only shaped by what you say, but by the way that you say it.

The criteria themselves are designed to reflect current annual reporting legislation and best practice. We haven’t included a separate category to assess Integrated Reporting because many of the notions that are central to it, such as sustainability and resources and relationships, are picked up by other criteria.

Understanding the business and context

What we measure

Business overview
Business model
Marketplace
Resources and relationships

What do you do, where and how? Who are your customers? What trends are impacting the marketplace? And why should an investor care about any of this – what makes you a different sort of proposition to everybody else in your field?

These are not always easy questions to answer, but they’re a central part of what investors and other stakeholders need to know. So this category aims to get to the heart of what makes a business tick, evaluating the overview of the company, its business model, its marketplace and the resources and relationships it relies on to carry out its activities.

Explaining and measuring performance

What we measure

Strategy
KPIs
Performance

What’s the strategy? Has that changed – and if so, in what way and why? How has the business performed against the strategy? How do the individual divisions contribute to the overall execution of the strategy? These are fair and fundamental questions to ask any business, but far too many either aren’t listening or don’t acknowledge the importance of sharing the facts with any degree of transparency.

The aim here is to communicate the essence of the business in all its glory: this is how we operate and where we’re trying to get to... this is the progress we’ve made in the last year... and this is what we intend to achieve in the coming 12 months.

Ideally, the objectives should be linked to KPIs, thereby giving investors an understanding of how the company measures success.

How sustainable is the business?

What we measure

Risk
Sustainability
Governance
Forward-looking aspect

Sustainability is itself a term that can cause confusion. Too many organisations see it as being only concerned with environmental performance and, in some cases, licence to operate. While these issues are clearly important, for us this category is all about the future in the broader sense. How is the company planning for the years to come? Is this a sustainable business or one that will merely shine today before fading away?

A good report should describe the principal risks that face the business (including environmental risks) and how it is mitigating those risks. As well as risk, this conversation relates to corporate governance – the reader should have a clear understanding of the governance structures in place and how the board is managing the business.

How well is the story explained?

What we measure

Message
Linkage and flow
Materiality and transparency
Navigation and appeal
Clarity of language

The primary job of an annual report is to tell the story of the year, in the context of market factors, strategy and risk, and provide an opinion on the future. The story should be compelling, integrated and easy to read. It should include clear signposts to additional, deeper content. And it should be a seamless and transparent exposition, containing a balance of negative and positive events. Few companies can say with any honesty that any year has been a total triumph. Investors understand that – and the occasional admission that you got it wrong or that things didn’t pan out quite as you’d hoped will go a long way to convincing readers that the business has everything under control.

A good report will communicate the company’s key messages via a mix of narrative styles, such as case studies. It will also provide topical information on the year’s achievements, with the various sections linking together to provide a coherent story with a single ‘voice’. The design should carry this story, using creativity to highlight the key information and make the report an effortless and engaging read.