8 Steps to Producing an Integrated Report

In Writer’s Guidebook, published in September 2014 by PR News, contributing authors offer perspectives on how to write effectively for various vehicles.

“21st Century Corporate Reporting: 8 Steps to Writing an Integrated Annual Report,” by Kathryn Caulfield, describes an approach to writing an integrated annual report, which is an emerging best practice in corporate reporting. Here is an abbreviated version of the complete chapter.

The corporate annual report is undergoing its biggest transformation since, well, the dawn of corporate reporting. Today’s annual report must address the drive for greater transparency, investors’ increasing demands for a comprehensive view of value creation and a broad set of stakeholders’ interests in an organization’s performance and prospects over the longer term. For the publicly traded company, the integrated annual report is rapidly emerging as the reporting approach to address this evolving trend.

An integrated report is a concise communication of how an organization’s strategy, governance, performance and prospects lead to the creation of value over the short, medium and long term. Rather than simply summarizing information from other communications, such as ­financial statements and sustainability reports, an integrated report explicitly connects ­financial performance with other factors to communicate how value is created.

Where do you begin? Like most tasks, the answer lies in taking it step by step and making progress over time. With four years of experience, we’ve learned about the strengths and weaknesses of our report from the perspectives of various stakeholders, and we’ve re­fined the process into eight steps.

Step 1: Form a cross-functional integrated team. Bring together a cross-functional team comprising those responsible for tracking, assessing and communicating fi­nancial performance as well as the performance of other areas of the business.

Step 2: Define your report’s objectives and scope. To help de­fine the objectives and scope of your report, your team should consider a number of questions, including: Who is your audience? What are your goals for the report? What is your desired takeaway? What content and structure will best meet your objectives and result in the desired takeaway?

Step 3: Prepare a strategic brief and secure buy-in. A strategic brief will typically cover answers to the above questions as well as the report’s overarching theme, tone and format(s); the data you will disclose and any other key content elements.

Step 4: Establish disclosure, methodology and data capture processes. The widely accepted standard for environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosure is the Global Reporting Initiative’s sustainability reporting guidelines. For your ­first report, your systems for collecting ESG data may not be as developed as they are for ­financial data, and you will likely need to establish new processes for data capture as well as baselines for your disclosures.

Step 5: Write and design for all communication vehicles.

Step 6: Conduct fact checks and independent third-party audits. External assurance increases confidence in the quality of your report and makes it a more reliable source for decision-making by stakeholders.

Step 7: Publish in print and digital formats. Ensuring that the report is simultaneously available in all formats is a best practice.

Step 8: Conduct stakeholder outreach. Meeting with investors, nongovernmental organizations and others to discuss your company’s performance in a comprehensive fashion can be a powerful tool to address questions or concerns. Your stakeholders can give you valuable feedback about what they found most effective in your report and where they would like to see additional information or changes that incorporate the following year.

Producing your first integrated annual report is a challenging undertaking, but it’s well worth the effort and it gets easier over time. The process of producing the report helps to improve alignment and engagement internally as well as management of your ESG performance and impacts. Investors, rating agencies and stakeholders of all kinds increasingly are seeking to understand a comprehensive view of value creation. An integrated report can form the basis for ongoing dialogue with your stakeholders to help build trust, confidence and mutual understanding.