Your agency’s annual report creates public value but writing it is tough! How do you do it all? Here’s 10 ways I found to make your job easier.
1. Gather resources early
The homework phase – collect all of the agency’s material you can:
- Previous year’s annual report
- Strategic plan
- Current year’s Budget estimate file
- Media releases
- Previous year’s schedule/timeline (as model)
- List of names of content coordinators/contributors.Arrange online access to:
Arrange online access to:
- DG’s external and internal speeches
- CorpEx presentations (especially helpful)
- House style guide
- Intranet articles about staff and projects
- Public Sector Commission’s annual report framework and checklist (must haves)
Place all of the above (copies/links, where possible) into one master file – a ‘Resources file’, all in one place, for fingertip access over the next 3/4 months.
2. Gather resources early
If you remember only one thing, it’s this – always go face-to-face to get the DG’s priorities, and try to pin down the big ideas — 1, 2 or 3 big themes to run all the way through and shape the report (and to be reinforced in the foreword).
Follow up (also face-to-face) with executives to fill in the gaps. Be aware that human beings tend to remember only recent events. You may have to dig to get them to come up with achievements/issues from the start of the year.
3. Set up a one-pager
During the whole journey, managers will be asking ‘where are we at’? (This is the public sector.) Yes, document everything — but the secret is to summarise it all in a table or Excel sheet on one page and keep it up to date. What you’ve done. What your next step is going to be. Always have it to hand (you’ll be emailing it constantly).
4. Cover all your bases
- List each and every section in the previous year’s annual report (from disability access to FOI and committee remuneration).
- Do not leave a single section or piece of information unaccounted for.
- Write the individual names of the content coordinator and this year’s contributor alongside.
- Give the contributors a copy of last year’s text and remind, remind, remind them to get this year’s content approved and in on time.
Tip: The sooner in the year you get to this point, the easier it will be for you (not easy, just easier). It is hard to get people enthused or serious about deadlines in July when they know the report is not printed until September. But treat each step with deadly seriousness. Internal deadlines are just as important to the production process as the deadline to get it to the minister and to table it in Parliament (well, almost).
5. Write the transitions
While you’re waiting for the specific content to arrive, write some ‘dummy’ blurbs and transition text for each section:
- Reflect your theme/s for the year
- Reinforce the navigation/structure for the reader
- Use clear language (plain English)
- Describe outcomes (what the agency actually achieved, using stats, facts, figures, context), not processes (how you worked).
6. Bring it all together
- Compile a dummy draft of the entire report, with publishing details, headings, contact offices, feedback form, etc.
- Indicate lines of dummy copy ready to fill as the real copy arrives. This will give you a complete template for the report and show where there are any gaps. Fill them.
- Discard what you can. And edit relentlessly.
- Match up information in different parts of the report and check, check, and check again.
7. Work with the minister’s office
- If you’re producing new departmental material, it’s easy and tempting to write what you like about the business. In reality, it’s more about the minister than you. Work with the government’s priorities.
- Remember to give them time (up to 10 full working days) to review the draft. Arrange for the right people in the MO to review it and to review it early. They won’t have time to do the job if they leave it to the last minute. It’s a big report. This is particularly important if the personnel in the MO’s office is new. You can’t assume they know what needs to be done, by when and why it’s important. But good communications between your agency’s Ministerial Liaison Officer and the minister’s staff will ensure good process — and goodwill.
Tip: As well as your internal team, you might have one or more ministers to report to. The feedback can get very complicated. Maintain a table of queries from your team and the MO, and your responses. This is so none is missed. Even the vaguest handwritten comment can become an issue. Do not overlook even obvious queries –when the MO has a query, they are not really ‘asking’. Within your professional and public sector principles, accommodate all queries. Any decisions you make to the contrary should be recorded and defensible (partly for the MO themselves and partly because your own managers might be even more diligent about following them up later – and at the least convenient times when you’re down in the weeds. That table will be a godsend.
8. Thank, thank, thank you
One year, 2 superb managers (not me) coordinated the bigger production process, managed the wider team and liaised with ‘upstairs’ (one or 2 dropped the ball, but hey). You can never thank all of those fine people who contribute to your report enough. It’s what they do, all the time and they deserve recognition and reward for it.
9. Take a bow
3 solid months of work brought to life 200 pages of compelling content detailing a multitude of different services and achievements. As many of the original articles had been written by different members of staff, bringing a coherent edit to the whole report was an important task.
This was a joint project with talented management and staff, and it was a delight to collaborate on a report that showed government at its best.
‘Thanks to a lot of teamwork, we got the annual report off to the printers today … Well done all … Also a big thank to (our designer) and Kerry for creating an elegant, digestible report. It’s a helpful summary of 2018–19 and it’s a great reference for anyone who wishes to understand how (we) work.’‘
— A/Manager Corporate Communications
10. Polish until it shines
The public sector – I don’t mean to offend here but, let’s face it, it’s not something that sends shivers down most people’s spine. However, some carefully crafted words, written for your target audience in the right tone of voice might be the best investment you make this year. Your report is urgent because of the impact it can make. You’ll have to live with the consequence for a long time if you turn out a rushed, poorly written one – a very good reason to include a professional editor on your team early.