Every year, communicators dedicate six months of their lives to the reporting cycle. Half the year, and plenty of time and energy, is invested into delivering the very best annual report possible. It’s time consuming, mentally challenging, and impacts almost every part of the working day.
But it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it sounds, and the support that a company’s agency partner can provide during these long months shouldn’t be underestimated. Dare I say, it should be enjoyable!
The key word here is ‘partner’. A partnership built on mutual benefit and shared goals will always be fruitful. The role of the agency is to not only help guide clients through the murky waters of reporting regulation and best practice, but also to be a trusted ally, and offer a supporting hand to ease the reporting pressures of ever-evolving regulation.
There’s a wealth of information available on how companies can improve their report. And it comes thick and fast from the multiple regulatory bodies that keep the reporting world moving and compliant. But rarely does anyone offer advice on the process and building the right support team around you.
So, what makes a great partnership? Here are five key components that will help you get the best out of your agency:
- A shared goal
From the outset, establish a clear set of principles to guide both parties through the process. This is particularly useful during the content iteration phases. Think about the report’s overarching theme, its audiences, the stakeholders, the schedule of delivery stages and what the communications ambitions are. These principles should be developed together with both client and agency teams so that everyone buys into them. This creates a point of reference from which to anchor your decisions further down the line, particularly if they impact the annual report’s content or process. A good example of this in action is the Olympic gold-medal-winning “Will it make the boat go faster” technique.
- Mutual value
Value goes both ways. We all want to be proud of the report, whether you’re the client or the agency. And like corporate remuneration policies, agencies also expect to get fairly remunerated for the effort that goes into the process. Most (if not all) agencies use timesheets to track effort, which is often a concept that is not relatable to clients. Agency efforts are directly related to costs on the job and fees earned, and should be thought of in terms of ‘time = value’. Understanding this concept is the first step. And agencies too need to ensure that clients are getting true value from the time spent. Keeping both sides of this equation in mind allows us to appreciate the effort and value that we’re all working towards.
- Set a well-defined scope
A well-defined scope will ensure that all parties are setting off from the same point and with the same vision of what is expected – both in terms of the process and the end result. When written and approved, it gives complete transparency and provides a solid management tool to track progress against throughout the process, ensuring that everyone remains aligned and that the implications of any changes to the scope (on timings, budget and deliverables) can be easily assessed by both sides and discussed with complete clarity.
- Clear and regular communications
Keep the communication going. Regular status calls and touchpoints throughout the week ensure that everyone is aware of upcoming requirements, new legislation and potential challenges that could affect the report or the process. It’s a risk management tool as well – staying connected helps the team avoid any nasty surprises. Additionally, things move at a rapid pace throughout the reporting process. Many discussions and decisions are made internally by the client that the agency hasn’t been party to. Any impact on the schedule or process needs to be relayed to the agency team so that they can manage resource and ensure they can provide the right level of support at the right time. Likewise, agencies need to be completely transparent with their developments and planning, clearly indicating the effort required to deliver the requirements and manage expectations.
- Personal connections
Through the reporting cycle, you inevitably work very closely with those in the teams around you. It therefore makes complete sense that you should recruit a team that you enjoy working with and with whom you can connect on a personal level. This enables you to get the best out of each other. You’ll always go the extra mile for someone who you know appreciates your efforts, values your input, and takes time to show an interest in you and your life beyond the office.
It's clear that the value of these components for a strong partnership during the six-month period rings true for our clients, too:
“We have established an excellent working relationship with RY over the years and the reporting process runs very smoothly. Much of that is due to the strong personal relationships we have built with the team, which makes the whole process much easier and more enjoyable.
We now view [the RY team] as an extension of our own internal team and work seamlessly with them, with the benefit of well-established processes and communication lines built over years of co-operation.
The benefits of longevity go far beyond smooth processes: RY has now developed a great understanding of our business, our strategy and brand, and the team has been able to translate that into valuable advice on the content and design of our report.”
Barbara Sterlina, Reporting and Corporate Identity Manager, 3i Group plc.
Creating a standout report is no simple task. But these five items to bear in mind as you enter the reporting cycle will set you up to not only deliver a brilliant report, but enjoy the process and the working relationship between client and agency partner.
By Ben Varley, client director