The Annual Report is too often underutilized in the literature racks of public companies. While thoroughly and sometimes even artfully detailing yearly achievement, it frequently fails to adequately compel investors, motivate employees, or inspire customers. As a requisite securities tool, it can create so much transparency that little is left to the imagination. Publicly traded companies forced to file reports often assign them to finance departments obsessed with financial results, lawyers paranoid by disclosure, or communications managers vying to win design awards. These publications represent a time-consuming expense — and an often missed marketing opportunity.Private firms, on the other hand, have an interesting option — to create and produce a publication with all the trappings of the venerable Annual Report but few of its pitfalls. Properly developed, an Annual Review mirrors its SEC relative while creating a more tactical, targeted, and effective sales tool. Unlike the thousands of glossy Annual Reports that clutter corporate closets and return unused from trade shows, private Annual Reviews can set a lively pace for all outbound PR and marketing in emerging and mature private companies. In a modern marketing mix that should also assess Web, interactive, social media, and other creative and virtual tools, they can lay a 12-month cornerstone for an organization's annual external communications.

Producing an Annual Review can help young technology organizations — from power developers and midsize IT shops to nanotechnology ventures and software makers — tell a rapidly evolving perennial story to investors, customers, and employees. When the story is clear and thoughtful, and when it parallels a well-defined exit strategy, good things happen. Investors and partners better recognize market trends. Equity firms more fully understand the most arcane science. And employees can buy into management initiatives or startup strategies that demand personal sacrifice and professional commitment. An Annual Review that intelligently pieces the chapters of your firm's development, framed by compelling graphic design and photography, paves the kind of track record so important to future investors. Properly distributed to trade and financial media, potential distributors and partners, industry equity firms, lenders, and other stakeholders, it can help management achieve successful, measurable, and timely exit goals.

Fortunately, unencumbered by SEC requirements, private Annual Reviews can select more individualized financial reporting metrics. Choose topics that positively profile your growth strategy and buttress your organizational mission and philosophy. Highlight your research and development spending; show your employee base diversity and growth; illustrate the geographic reach of your customers and distribution points. Describe topics and achievements that are real and significant but at the same time impart your strategic thinking to potential stakeholders. The charts and graphs don't even have to refer to your company; provide well-sourced industry trends or projections, global market share summaries, or head-to-head competitor metrics.

Whether to adopt the tradition of including a letter from the CEO will be a case-by-case choice for private companies. Properly written, it can put personality and passion into marketing your technology. Honestly crafted, it will reinforce investment potential, summarize milestone achievements, assure governance oversight, and articulate the intangible reasons your firm will realize tangible success. Include a listing of advisors, partners, key employees, and other stakeholders; it empowers them, fosters outside confidence, and reinforces the organization's depth of independent expertise.

A professionally designed Annual Review ensures the consistent early-stage branding vital to emerging companies. It also benefits from photographic quality and solid graphic design principles that powerfully reinforce important core messages. A well-executed design will format your story skillfully, creating chronological chapters, profiling important team members, and isolating significant case studies and research projects. Consider developing a glossary of terms, too, especially in industries where jargon challenges the most intelligent readers.

Emerging firms looking for future investors or owners create value in distinct ways — generally through financial strategy, asset development, human resource management, and market initiatives. The Annual Review offers another, ROI-driven tool: a yearly marketing— and sales-driven publication that profiles organizational strengths in a cogent and compelling document. Properly conceived, creatively executed, and strategically delivered to key audiences, an Annual Review will be a useful asset to high-growth companies. And while public companies operate under different requirements, they too can approach the reporting process in a way that tells a better story, making for more strategic, creative, and effective marketing.

Portsmouth Herald, May 24, 2010

Turn Annual Reports into Best-sellers