As touched upon in a previous post, annual report design can be much more than a drab legal requirement. It can be a tool, a resource, and an advert all rolled into one.
Here are some of the best annual report examples, along with some of the worst… just for comparison.
If you’re really bored, or super into annual reports, you can even play along with this blog post.
Grab a pen and paper, and rank these annual reports from most to least interesting before you read the post.
- HSBC (Banking)
- Mailchimp (Marketing Agency)
- Marks and Spencer (Retailer)
- Starbucks (Catering and Hospitality)
- Tesco (Retailer)
- Tesla (Automotive)
- Unilever (Consumer Goods)
At the very least, it gives you a reason to check out every example available as we go!
Tesco Annual Report
Tesco’s annual report is a great example of how to do it.
Sturdy, informative, not too dense, it checks all of the legal requirements and presents a full picture of Tesco’s financial performance over the last 12 months with not much fluff.
It does come in a bit on the longer side, at 176 pages, but each page is nicely presented. The majority of pages don’t just present a wall of text, but uses graphics, tables and highlights to great effect.
The diagram accompanying their page ‘A robust approach to risk’ is a particularly well designed part of the report, and they get bonus points for pointing out exactly how their sections meet UK legislation requirements.
It’s a bold move, but leaves no room for error or audit. A bit of a power move, but you’ve got to respect it.
All in all, I like the Tesco annual report.
It does what it sets out to do, no nonsense. I like that the report comes across as polished without being too inauthentic or manufactured. There is a polished feel to it all, and the use of the core Tesco colours throughout is a nice touch that is well executed. There are definite areas for improvement, and some parts of the report are incredibly pedestrian.
I give the Tesco annual report…
“BRANDING IS WHAT PEOPEL SAY ABOUT YOU WHEN YOUR NOT IN THE ROOM”
It’s a strong start, but not unsurmountable.
Good for you, Tesco.
Maybe put this in next year’s annual report as something to build on?
Starbucks Annual Report
The Starbucks annual report is a decaf ice latte you pay £6 for.
You don’t feel any more awake after reading it.
And it’s covered in Starbucks logos.
This is an annual report that is designed for one thing and one thing only. To fulfil the legal obligation of producing an annual report.
For a company with such a creative audience, I was a little bit disappointed in this offering. Their Instagram feed is wonderfully curated, bright and on brand, so it’s a shame that they haven’t injected a bit of creativity into their annual report design. Add to that the distinct move away from general usability and readability, and you’re onto a loser.
I have to give the Starbucks annual report…
It isn’t the worst report in the world. It just wasn’t created for human consumption.
The use of colour and branding isn’t nuanced or subtle, it’s just slapped on there as a corporate logo on a corporate document.
Not the worst designed annual report on this list but by no means the best, so if you had Starbucks in first or last position… close but no unicorn frappe.
Marks & Spencer Annual Report
Moving back to the world of retail, we’ve got the Marks & Spencer annual report.
We return to the sturdy, usable annual reporting style we saw from Tesco’s, and again, M&S get the job done.
Inarguably, this is a far more readable, consumable, and scannable report than the Starbucks one, so that puts it above a 4 out of 10 straight out of the gate, scores wise.
It employs a lot of the same techniques as the Tesco’s annual report, so that instinctively puts it in the same ball park.
I like the use of the M&S green, and how it has been seeded throughout the report- I think I prefer it to the blue, white and red of the Tesco report.
The use of the chalkboard font adds a lot to the uniqueness of the messaging, and enforces the brand identity really well.
The actual structure of the annual report, and the ways in which the information is presented, is not quite as good as Tesco’s.
In particular, there are certain key victories that aren’t really sung about or focussed on as much as they perhaps should have been.
The celebrity endorsement of the Marks & Spencer charity (Holly Willoughby, take a bow!) is almost a footnote, although it is used as a highlight of the year.
I give the M&S annual report…
I like the annual report put out by Marks & Spencer, but overall it just isn’t quite as good as Tesco’s. Marks & Spencer’s report doesn’t cater to the ‘auditing’ audience as well as Tesco’s does, and misses the mark with a few key messages from the year.
It was close, and catch me in a good mood and I’d have possibly awarded the extra half mark to M&S to bring them even with Tesco’s, but for today I’m of the opinion that they just fall short.
Is this the controversial decision that splits the audience?
Am I flying in the face of public opinion here?
Am I getting way too excited about annual reporting?
Either way, the next report up is…
HSBC Bank Annual Report
HSBC Bank have a really strong sense of brand and branding.
There is an authority, a gravity, you can really feel in the black and red colour scheme.
Even before you open the actual HSBC annual report, I love the fact that you can access the relevant sections in separate downloadables rather than having to trawl through the full report to pull out what you’re looking for.
The report itself opens with a beautiful and colourful compound image of various iconic city skylines, showing HSBC as a bank with global concerns. This global image is built up by the tag line ‘Opening up a world of opportunity’.
Very cool, HSBC, very cool.
Going into the guts of the report, we see splashes of colour and good graphic representation of information.
I like the use of the larger text for important figures, as it really draws your eye to that part of the page. This caters really well to the skim readers who will just want to browse this in a leisurely manner rather than reading it word for word.
The use of brand colours and secondaries are consistent and well established throughout the report, and all of the salient points are covered.
You can tell you’re in the banking sector with this report as well, lots of figures and ‘big business’ going on everywhere.
It never feels too fast paced, which sometimes works against the report, but it also just narrowly avoids being dull as dishwater, even though the content can be a bit of a dry read at times.
It ticks all of the boxes, but is still designed to be read by a human rather than just to fulfill an obligation.
Overall, I have to give HSBC Bank a score of…
HSBC have smashed it here.
You look through the annual report, and they cover everything off in a really clean, neat, easy to digest format.
They lost marks here and there from some deeply unsatisfying story telling.
On page 72, they talk about shutting down some suspicious bank accounts but never clarify if they were right to do so, or what happened as a result.
It could have been a really cool highlight, (data analyst takes on the mob!) but instead it just made it seem like HSBC can and will shut down your bank account if you make large cash deposits.
The other major place they lost points was the length.
At a gargantuan 382 pages, this report is an absolute leviathan.
Sure, it has things to say, and the beautiful graphics do take up a little bit of space, but at some point you have to aim for a bit of brevity.
This is offset somewhat by the availability of all of the major sections in pdf form, but still… keep it a bit tighter HSBC.
A strong frontrunner, it’ll take something really special to beat this report (spoiler alert: Something does…)
Following up from that, we’ll jump to the most disappointing report on the list…
Tesla Annual Report
Tesla is like marmite (and by Tesla I mean Elon Musk).
You either love it or you hate it.
On the one hand, launching a car into space and playing David Bowie’s Starman is an incredibly obnoxious thing to be doing.
On the other hand, it’s genius from a PR standpoint.
Same with launching Tesla Tequila, smashing unsmashable windows in a safety demonstration, launching limited edition short shorts to cock a snook at Wall Street for shorting Tesla stocks, selling ‘not a flamethrower’ flamethrowers under a Tesla sub brand.
The list goes on.
Where you fall with Tesla on the obnoxious to genius sliding scale is irrelevant really, it just shows that Tesla and Elon Musk have an incredible knack for polarising people and getting them talking.
It definitely isn’t the only electric car brand out there, but it is definitely the most talked about.
Which is why the Tesla annual report is such a disappointment. Such an opportunity to bring in the aspects of branding and personality, and we get… nothing.
Well, not nothing- we get worse than nothing, we get dull.
Perhaps it’s entirely geared towards an audience that hate the crazy PR stunts Tesla go in for. The ‘standardised black text, white background, times new roman’ audience.
It just seems like a missed opportunity, and a surprising admission from a company you might expect to be a little bit more creative or exciting.
I’ll not dwell too much on this (YOU BROKE MY HEART, ELON!) but yeah… there’s not all that much to talk about.
Dull, colourless, corporate in the worst way…
Let’s swiftly move on to our next contender, a company with many fingers in many different pies.
They own over 400 different brands, including Lipton Ice Tea, Dove Soap, Lynx, Magnum, Pot Noodle and… Marmite (do you see the link? It’s almost as if I planned it).
Unless you are king of the pub quiz, you probably don’t know the company I’m talking about, so I’ll stop trying to pad out the Tesla section and just reveal the next section.
Unilever Annual Report
Unilever, (who definitely aren’t the bad guys from Wall-E), have A LOT of sub brands to be concerned about.
They make an incredible amount of money.
They managed to fit all relevant information in just over 200 pages, which is a phenomenal feat in itself.
There is a good use of pastel colours which makes the report friendly, although some of the colour choices are a bit questionable (using the same colour for human skin as you do for the planet Jupiter is a bit of a jarring palette choice, in my humble opinion) but overall it’s nice.
Pleasant enough? Check
Presents information in a highly readable way? Check
Shouts about it’s successes? Check
Includes everything it needs to? Check
Is it as good as the HSBC report? Probably not.
It’s grab quotes and the things it wants to shout about aren’t as attractive as the HSBC report, and the stylistic sensibility just doesn’t measure up.
Is it as good as the Tesco annual report?
I’d say so. It doesn’t do some things as well (like catering towards auditors) but it does some things better (the image of the man and the cow on page 11 is a surprisingly lovely bit of illustration work).
Side by side, it’s a question of personal taste- I think the information is presented in a very similar style and probably speaks to industry sensibilities as much as anything else.
Unilever’s annual report does a lot more with blocks of texts, making it slightly less scannable, but the colour palette is softer and more accessible.
I think the Unilever annual report is probably as good as the Tesco annual report. For the sake of ranking them at the end, and solely for the fact that I prefer the imagery used in the Unilever annual report, I award the Unilever report….
At this point in my annual reports journey, I was thinking that perhaps what separates the good, the bad, and the ugly might be a legislative thing. I was leaning heavily towards preferring UK based companies over American companies, and the way the annual report is regulated is different on either side of the Atlantic.
And then I found it.
The Holy Grail of annual reporting.
And I found it in Atlanta, Georgia. This shows that Starbucks and Tesla do just have rubbish annual reports and it’s nothing to do with legislation.
The undisputed winner of the annual report designs you can bank on is…
The Mailchimp annual report is a thing of beauty.
Parsed down to the vital facts and figures, no padding.
And just so, so, so creative.
What a brilliant concept.
Taking something that is classically not the most exciting corporate document and creating a fun and interesting tool that works as a powerful marketing tool as well.
I’m green with envy.
Of course, Mailchimp probably have a more corporate version of this report. But I don’t care. I’m not going to look for it.
At the time of writing, the Mailchimp annual report has over 13,000 backlinks. Good, relevant, quality backlinks. The report itself functions as a compendium of success stories, while still finding space to shout about Mailchimp’s own successes. It’s marketing gold. It is short, punchy, and graphically pleasing.
There are probably faults with the report that I miss because I’m so blown away by the production value of it all. I understand that one lone marketing manager with no time and less budget didn’t put this together on a whim.
This is an extremely polished, well produced and precisely executed bit of marketing, and although it is unlikely that anyone could emulate it successfully without some serious time and budget allowance, it does show what the annual report can be.
This is probably the best annual report to ever have been created, by virtue of the fact that it is the only annual report that wasn’t written as a dour corporate document to be jazzed up a bit for readability, but as a marketing tool that just so happened to be an annual report.
It also combines real world annual report data type stuff, and things you’d normally find in a marketing report, so it’s a super interesting read.
Kudos to Mailchimp, who are awarded…
I know that breaks the grading scale, but so what. The difference between Starbucks and Marks & Spencer is far closer than the difference between HSBC and Mailchimp. In an alternate universe where I used a 1-100 scale rather than a 1 to 10, I’d have given the exact same ratings to all of the other reports, and awarded Mailchimp 1000 out of 100.That’s how much better the Mailchimp annual report is.
I might be going a little bit over the top of course, but I’ve actually waxed rather lyrical about the possibilities of the annual report, as well as how to write an annual report, in another post, so be sure to check that out as well.