Annual report design: the real cost of looking cheap

Bryce Michelmore
October 12, 2012

‘In volatile times, shareholders challenge companies to show their long-term resilience strategies.’

This recent tweet from PwC (posted 4 October 2012) reflects the pressure that shareholders put on Boards, particularly during difficult times. Many companies will respond to this pressure by flatlining their spending. That’s when agencies begin to field requests like: ‘This year’s report needs to look like a low-cost production. Shareholders don’t want to see us spending money on this type of thing at the moment.’

The question is how far do you go to make it look like you are curbing the costs of business? Do you go so far as to spend the same or even more money to give the appearance that you are spending less? And at what cost to your brand?

One common myth is that formatting a report entirely in black and white will cost less to design and print. However, the digital production process these days is such that you can run a one-colour job on the same machine that you run a four-colour job. The cost difference? None or very little. But if you are still establishing new corporate colours following a recent rebrand or it is a key business imperative to build your brand presence in a competitive market, what is the true cost of this decision? Would it not be more economical to educate your shareholders on the true cost of digital colour printing than risk damage to brand growth or salience with your wider audience?

Similarly, it does not take any less time to lay out or typeset an annual report in black and white. Copy is copy, no matter the colour. One could even argue that design layout is even more important in this modest setting; without colour to help distinguish, highlight and prioritise, your design layout needs to work much, much harder for you. And that can be expensive.

Perception is a funny thing though. It’s not unheard of for reports to be laid out in full colour only to be stripped back to black and white at the last minute in an effort to look more austere – even though the design changes mean the company will now have to pay more for the report.

Is the deception worthy of the desired perception? If you see your report as a key marketing asset, then I would argue that it’s not. It seems a flawed strategy to try and prevent a company from going under by making it look like it’s going under. Surely volatile times are exactly when you want to stand out and show the world that your company is solid, stable and grounded yet bright and optimistic about the future and your performance in it? As Canadian designer David Craib so nicely puts it, ‘the objective in times of economic restraint should be to seek excellence, not opulence’. Paying the same or more to look ‘cheap’ sounds rather opulent, or at least inauthentic, to me.

Disclaimer: All of this is not to say, of course, that black-and-white reports cannot look good or should not be done. For proof, look no further than this stunning report from oil company Celtic Exploration Ltd, which recently featured in the ‘Graphis 100 Best Annual Reports 2012’.

Bryce Michelmore is an Account Manager at Wellmark.

 

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