Add Value to Your Annual Report

Paul Redfern shares three tips to create a more meaningful annual report.

June 28, 2016

Providing your president, board, senior team, and other members of the community with an annual report that ties goals to action, makes marketing data easy to understand, and provides valuable analysis should be among your top priorities this summer if you are a CMO at a college or university.

After seeing Rachel Reuben present (she worked at Ithaca College at the time and talked about what she offered her institution in a workshop at the AMA Symposium on Higher Education), I knew we needed to offer more than the eight pages of text and charts we created for our campus. I wanted to produce something that was more visual and helped to build a data driven culture in our team.

So we did. Some groaned, initially, over how much time it took. They said we should spend our time on more important tasks. But once our new annual report was complete and I used portions of it with the cabinet and trustees, our communications and marketing advisory council, and (at times) members of the campus community, including the faculty, I heard people comment about how useful and beneficial it was in helping to provide context and value to our work.

Our revitalized annual report is now in the third year. Each cycle we add, delete, and change the information included in an attempt to continue to improve it.

Here are three pieces of advice if you’re wondering how to get started on an annual report that’s more more meaningful – and therefore, more valuable.

1. KISS (Keep it simple stupid)

You don’t need multiple pages of elegantly written text and complicated charts and graphs. A few sentences and a well thought out chart might do the trick. Each piece of information in your report should help you tell your story. If not, change it to make it more useful or get rid of it.

For example, Gettysburg’s athletic communications information was lumped together in our section of our report. But it’s really integrated into our work, so this year we’re incorporating more of this information into the body the report.

2. Don’t be paralyzed by data

There are many ways to collect, sort, review, and present marketing data. Not counting the thousands of pieces of data that you have the opportunity to track. Spend some time with your team, figure out what is really important, and then track it. We started using Google Analytics in 2006 and tracked all sorts of numbers and statistics. Ten years later, we focus on just a few key things. because I tracked it, I know our average unique pageviews grew from 202 in 2006 to more than 1100 in 2015

3. Find ways to replace yourself

I read a piece by an entrepreneur about this concept a few years ago and feel like the idea fits well into this conversation. When it comes to collecting data you might have to do it yourself for a year or two. If the activity proves to be worth the time, as a leader you need to figure out a way to make it part of someone’s official responsibilities. This way you can move on to figuring out the next thing. For the first few years in my current role, I was the person on the staff who counted our hits in the media. After a few years I turned this responsibility over to a member of my team and found other areas that I wanted a better way to track and report on for my department.

And finally, don’t be afraid of the data, embrace the opportunity to build a data driven culture within your marketing team and provide the value and ROI of marketing to key players inside and outside of the organization.

Paul Redfern leads the communications and marketing team at Gettysburg College and is a frequent presenter on marketing and brand topics at national conferences.



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