Interview with Grace Diffey, FCPRS, APR – Vice-President, Community Relations
It’s no secret that we love working on annual reports! The hours of creative brainstorming and meticulous proofreading are worth it once we see the look of delight on our clients’ faces as they flip through the finished product.
If you’ve been tasked with your organization’s annual report, it can be tempting to take the easy route by pasting your data into a ready-made template you’ve found online. Sure it gets the job done, but it doesn’t actually say anything about the amazing work you do. Good annual reports use numbers to tell the story and the ‘why’ of an organization.
Data can be seen as boring and unexciting (that expression “the cold, hard facts” exists for a reason after all). But if you can convey data with warmth, personality and a story, then you have something that transcends the numbers and gives your stakeholders something more.
To learn more about what goes into the planning of an annual report, we asked Grace Diffey, Vice-President of Community Relations at Hamilton Community Foundation, to share her experiences with us.
How do you prepare for an Annual Report each year?
There are two most important meetings in each AR cycle.
The first is our kickoff meeting 5 to 6 months ahead of the publication date. At that time, everyone who is involved in production and distribution gathers to review an intensely detailed schedule (which dates back more than a decade, with updates ever since) laying out times, step-by-step responsibilities and signoffs. Once you commit to your part, you’re committed. We then send it over to designers to identify any changes needed to timelines and review with our team again if necessary.
The second is our debrief meeting, which we try to schedule less than a month after publication. At this time we identify what went well, and anything that could have gone better. We make process improvements, solve problems and document the reasons why. This ongoing record has saved us a lot of time, over time.
Of course, the other important meeting is our brainstorming with the designers about the things that have happened over the past year, what we’re proud of, the stories that we’ll be using which feed into the theme and then the meeting later where all is revealed on the proposed design.
Besides financial data, what else do you want the design of the Annual Report to communicate?
That HCF is an organization you could see yourself donating to – or that you’re glad you already are.
Why go to a creative agency rather than complete the Annual Report in-house? What are the benefits of working with an agency?
We’re not in the design business. We may have ideas, but we need the expertise to execute them professionally. The benefits, beyond this, are an external perspective from people who don’t spend every day doing what we do.
How do you handle the responsibility of being the appointed decision maker? Are you the sole decision maker or do you also get input from the rest of your team?
It’s nerve-wracking. I’m the overall coordinator, but every department has to sign off on its own content. On the overall concept, I get input from others, and the senior management team reads the whole thing (at different points) before it’s all signed off. My department is responsible for producing and coordinating the AR, but the document belongs to the whole organization.
What is the greatest value that a creative agency provides to you?
Articulating the essence of who we are by translating it through look and feel into something our audiences can understand, get excited and care about.
What advice do you have for people that want to work more effectively with an agency?
- Be upfront about what you like/want and don’t like/want. It saves everyone’s time.
- Uphold your end of the bargain – i.e. stick to your own timelines.
- Have an idea of what you are trying to accomplish.
- Listen to advice.
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