Tested and true annual report tips for wondrous results

Nonprofit organizations and some companies create annual reports to showcase their work with key stakeholders every year. And many come off sounding like a, well, report. Something nobody really wants to read. They’re just something to check a required box. But why waste an opportunity? When annual reports are well executed, people actually read them and act.

An effective annual report may inspire stakeholders of different backgrounds to take action. A reporter might pick up something from the report for a story. A donor might make another donation or buy tickets for an upcoming event. A customer may book a different service or try a different product than the one they’re familiar with. What do you want your audience to do when they read yours?

Influential annual reports

The topic of annual reports is on the brain here because ClearWing recently worked with the Cobb/Marietta Exhibit Hall Authority to create an inspiring 2018 Annual Report. The theme was “Influence” and included stories about how three organizations – The Cobb Galleria, the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre and ArtsBridge – make a significant impact on people and organizations across the community, the state and the southeast.

We considered all stakeholders and readers when planning and hunting for stories.  In all, we featured 7 short stories to show how companies benefited from sponsorships; how organizations and people benefited from events there; and how students benefited from arts education. One story was about a volunteer who overcame her grief at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, and formed a close relationship with a patron. Another story featured a school principal who shared how children’s eyes are opened to the possibilities when they are exposed to the arts. The report was picked up by local media and gave the organization another opportunity to tell their story to audiences beyond their own stakeholders.

This elementary school principal helped tell the story of the important work of ArtsBridge, an arts education foundation.

Another stunning annual report I had the privilege to help conceptualize and produce was the 2017 WellStar Annual Report. Authentic patient stories, stunning photography, custom paper artwork and infographics came together to create a story of how the health system was “Building momentum in pursuit of world-class healthcare.” It was inspiring to tell the story of the 72-year-old man who won a gold medal in shot-put halfway through his cancer treatment. The 16-year-old girl who survived a tragic bus crash taking a church group to the airport for a mission trip. And the woman who survived breast cancer so she could keep teaching elementary music students and living life to the fullest.  Several of these stories came to life in print and broadcast media.

This man helped illustrate the winning cancer care by WellStar radiologists.

9 Tips for tremendous annual reports

  1. CONSIDER YOUR READER: As always, consider who will be reading the annual report. What do you want them to know? What do they want to know? And how can you put the two together?
  2. KEEP IT SIMPLE: Additionally, remember who you’re writing for and in most cases, keep jargon out of it. Most annual reports cater to a variety of audiences.  
  3. TELL YOUR STORY: Tell authentic brand stories that take both your mission and your reader into consideration. Who does your organization serve? Who in your organization serves them? There are interesting stories. You just have to dig a little. Read how to tell your brand story to engage your audience here.
  4. CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: If your company isn’t a nonprofit but you do things to make the world a better place, talk about it! Corporate social responsibility (or CSR) is becoming increasingly important, especially for younger consumers. According to a 2017 study by Cone Communications, 87 percent of people will purchase a product because a company got behind an important issue.
  5. SHOWCASE: Use high-quality photography to accompany your stories. The photos don’t have to be of people using your product or service (but it’s a win if they do). They can reflect the life that’s possible because of your organization.
  6. VISUALIZE YOUR DATA: Annual reports usually divulge a lot of data in the spirit of openness. Unfortunately, they can be complete eye charts and cause people to close the report. Include only what’s really necessary. Use infographics, pull-quotes or other graphics to visualize the data and take people on a journey through information that might otherwise go unnoticed.
  7. APPRECIATE: It’s always good to appreciate people in an annual report. Gratitude can incentivize those who’ve given to or purchased from your organization a reason to stay engaged.
  8. ASK: Most people don’t usually act unless they’re invited. If there’s something you want from your readers, ask. Looking for funds? Have a new service? Give them a way to go after it. If you’ve told your story well, they will be more inspired than ever to take action.
  9. MAKE IT DIGITAL: Annual reports are changing to keep up with the digital age. Consider how to make your annual report interactive online with video, animation, extended stories and more. While this is the last item on this list, it shouldn’t be an afterthought.  Here’s an example of an amazing animated 2017 Annual Report by Girls Who Code.

If you’re ready to ace your next annual report with great storytelling, let’s talk.

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ClearWing ‘latches on’ to Phoenix Award for innovative brand content

ClearWing ‘latches on’ to Phoenix Award for innovative brand content

It’s been a great first year in business at ClearWing Communications! We’ve had the honor to help clients’ brands fly through unique content creation. To cap it off, we took home a Phoenix Award from the Georgia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America for creating powerful branded content.

ClearWing’s shiny, blue glass award was for helping Christie Coursey of Breastfeed Atlanta share groundbreaking information. It positioned her as a thought leader and elevated her business as a preferred care partner. All in the name of healthy babies.

The problem & the solution 

Babies who quit mom’s milk too early suffer from poor health outcomes. But they’re often referred to lactation consultants too late. Breastfeed Atlanta worked with ClearWing Communications to create a position paper with two goals:

  1. To propose a new model of care for earlier intervention for breastfeeding babies and moms.
  2. To position Breastfeed Atlanta as a leading expert on lactation care for newborns so health providers will refer patients.

ClearWing Communications position paper

ClearWing ghostwrote the article for Coursey after a one-on-one interview. We captured information such as who we wanted to educate and action we wanted them to take. The audience included physicians, nurse practitioners (NPs) and other advance practice practitioners (APPs) who see breastfeeding patients.

The professionally-designed and printed branded content piece resembled an article in a medical magazine. The content theorized a gap in specialist care, citing reputable third-party data from organizations such as the World Health Organization. Supporting graphics included infographics (see below). These images helped health providers digest information quickly, even if they didn’t read the full article.

ClearWing worked with a talented graphic designer to ensure infographics helped tell the story in a fast, straightforward manner.

Public relations campaign

The position paper was part of a larger PR plan for Breastfeed Atlanta’s expansion into Marietta. The practice had no existing brand recognition in the area. The PR launch’s purpose was to garner awareness, brand recognition and referrals among the healthcare community, leaders and women. PR support included: A media alert, personal invitations to leaders, a ribbon-cutting/open house event, on-site photography, a press release, story pitching, a series of organic social media posts and the mini position paper.

The results

The four-page position paper was hand-delivered to physicians, NPs and APPs by members of the clinic’s staff. This branded content was the most powerful piece of the clinic’s collateral. It resulted in increased brand awareness, valuable new relationships and healthier babies. It will continue to educate health partners for healthier and happier moms and babies.

To read a blog post version of the article, visit the Breastfeed Atlanta website.

To position yourself and your company as a thought leader, contact ClearWing to chat today.

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How to get your brand identity in shape

ClearWing Communications - How to get your brand identity in shape: Craft strong key messaging & brand voice to stand out

In an earlier blog post, we discussed how to boost your business when you focus on brand identity. Essentially, how your “why” informs your brand identity and helps you accomplish business goals.

Here, we’ll talk about developing key messaging and voice to shape up your brand identity.

Shape your brand’s key messaging and repeat it

Your key messaging should incorporate the “why” and the “who” we discussed in our previous brand identity blog. Then you’ll repeat it in every communication. Your website, your social media channels, printed collateral, ads, speeches, videos and more.

Companies with strong brand identities like Coca-Cola repeat their messaging over and over and over. And over and over and over. And over. Even when it gets old. That’s why you recognize slogans like “Taste the feeling.”

Why is repetition important?

  1. In today’s digital landscape, media is more diverse than ever. People can get their information across different service providers and devices. That means audiences are more fragmented than ever. Even when a company repeats a message day in and day out, an individual customer only hears it sporadically so it must be repeated relentlessly.
  2. People are also exposed to more messages than ever before. According to Yankelovich, a market research firm, people living in cities were exposed to an average of 5,000 ads a day in 2007. More than a decade later, experts say it could be as high as 10,000. It’s no wonder many messages don’t stick. In a world where thousands of messages compete for attention on a daily basis, repetition is critical.

Once a company develops its key messaging, it will inform all future communications such as elevator pitches, speeches, ads and more.

Your word choices and brand voice should reflect your organization’s personality

But don’t stop yet. Take it a step further and make intentional choices about your brand voice. Your brand has a unique personality and your brand voice should reflect it. Specific word across your marketing collateral will help people understand how your brand relates to them better.

To start humanizing your brand, come up with a list of adjectives that represent your organization’s personality. You might describe it with words like tough, friendly, witty or funny. And for every personality trait, there’s a voice to match. Words can be gruff, humorous, peppy or clever.

Brand personality helped SPANX stand out

A great example of a Georgia-based company that created a unique brand voice is SPANX. Atlantan Sara Blakely, a.k.a. the “pantyhose mogul,” invented her body-shaping product to look svelte in white jeans (it works, ya’ll).

Though the billionaire has made a killing, she shared in a 2018 interview with Georgia Trend magazine that her brand never takes itself too seriously. That’s a direct reflection of its founder who isn’t afraid to say she was the company’s original “butt model.” The name in itself – SPANX – was risky, but funny, and its first slogan was, “Don’t worry, we’ve got your butt covered.” Product names have included “Her Thighness” and “Undi-tectable.” Her brand voice made it acceptable, even cool, for younger women to use shapewear. The first SPANX served a need no one else was serving and her approachable humor helped the company stand out.

Brand personalities, especially for small businesses, are often a reflection of their founders. Think about your own personality. How would you describe you?  It’s not a good idea to force a voice that’s far from natural. If your company voice is really humorous but you’re quiet and straightforward in person, it won’t feel authentic.

Exercise your brand identity

There’s a good chance you’ve gone through a similar process to create your brand logo and look with color, font and design choices. Combine that with brand messaging and voice and you’ll have everything you need to create a brand identity guideline document. Moving forward, you’ll want to share your guidelines with any marketing and communications professionals you work with, people on your team involved with marketing and companies you partner with to keep everything consistent.

For example, a sponsorship may include remarks, a company description in the program and a logo for a shirt or presentation. A quick consult with your brand identity document can guide your speaking points, program write-up and ensure the partner organization keeps the integrity of your logo intact.

For help creating a brand identity that really reflects your company, let’s talk.

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The truth about jargon and its startling effect

The truth about jargon and its startling effect

Which piece of advice would you be more likely to remember after a visit with your doctor: the sentence with or without jargon?

Dr. Jargon: Decrease your lipoproteins and glucose, increase intake of herbaceous plants with water-soluble vitamins, and increase your calisthenics to reduce your BMI and comorbidities.


Dr. ClearWing: Cut back on red meats and sugar, increase your intake of leafy greens and exercise to lose weight and lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Did you glaze over when Dr. Jargon was talking? I hope none of that guy’s patients flatline…

The truth about jargon blog post by ClearWing Communications

But seriously, jargon and acronyms are popular no matter what industry you work in. We’re all guilty of using them.

Industry-speak has its place. It can help people learn detailed pieces of information and exchange it quickly amongst peers. But that’s where it should stay.

Have you ever met someone who made you feel like you needed a pocket dictionary just to follow the conversation? When it was over, you may have wondered what you actually talked about. All those words were forgotten and you may have decided NOT to engage further with that person or their business.

Do you speak Jargon?

While it’s easy to be critical of others with a robust vocabulary filled with industry-talk and acronyms, it can be hard to recognize you’re doing the same thing. Even worse, to your customers. (Or maybe you cringe when you use the word “synergy” with a prospective client…even Dr. ClearWing slips up sometimes.)

Business leaders are often entrenched in their industry and meetings with colleagues. It can be tough to realize or admit the need to change their language for different audiences.

Clear messaging for all

Speeches, elevator pitches and marketing content should be as devoid of acronyms and jargon as possible. You should keep your language simple with a general audience, but even with a highly educated audience. People with advanced degrees are still hard-pressed for time. The simpler the message, the easier to process. The quicker to understand, the higher the chance they’ll get your message.

This is something I’ve driven home with my content teams over the years. For general audiences, we shoot for writing on a seventh or eighth-grade level. We measure that with the Flesch Kincaid Readability test. It takes different things into account, like how many words are in a sentence and the length of each word.

It’s hard to grab attention and once you have it, it’s fleeting. The easier your content is to digest, the more likely you’ll be able to communicate your key messages, even if your ideal customer has an M.D.

At ClearWing, we work with our clients to reduce jargon and acronym-filled content so your messages are crisp, clear and easy to digest. So remember, clear messaging saves lives!

We’re not the classiest wine drinkers here. Bought this one for the label, which inspired this blog post.

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