How perfect publication planning can beat the winter blues

Great ideas for brilliant housing publications

At this time of year, social landlords are starting to think about how they will produce their annual reports on finance and to customers. In our experience, although much thought goes into these documents (and there are some excellent examples out there – step forward Citizen), they often end up being rushed through, with key messages being re-written right up to the wire.

This is usually despite the best efforts of the communications team, but it is far from an ideal outcome and is unlikely to ensure stakeholders and customers are seeing your organisation at its best.

I have previously blogged on six steps to producing a successful publication, so I won’t re-hash these here. What I do want to cover in more detail are your organisation’s key messages and the creative thought that goes into how best to capture and convey these to your target audiences. Here are four key points:

  1. Vision, mission and values

As my colleague Lydia Stockdale has expertly covered here, knowing and understanding your organisation’s vision, mission and values is central to the success of any communications activity. This is the golden thread that runs through all PR work.

Your vision, mission and values should be clearly reflected in your current business plan and its core aims. This makes the job of deciding what key messages to emphasise in your annual reports much, much more straightforward.

  1. Key messages

As I mentioned, these are at the heart of any communications work and annual and customer reports are no different. Time spent at the outset ensuring buy-in across key business areas will very likely prove the difference between a strong end result or last-minute hair-pulling as publication deadlines loom.

  1. Impact

In our experience, one of the main stumbling blocks clients often encounter is the ability to demonstrate the impact of their business plan aims over the year.

Whether it is something relatively simple such as number of social rent homes completed or new tenancies let, to more complex evidence of social impact or opportunities created, communications teams are often left chasing their tails for the answers. The only solution to this is planning. Again, time spent planning how impact can and will be captured is essential.

  1. How to communicate

This is where things are getting really interesting – in many ways the restrictions on what is possible here are disappearing into the distance. While I am in no way saying the importance of the written word is diminished, the opportunities for communications teams to bolster written content are myriad. This gives the best possible chance of making an impact with your target audience.

For instance, why limit the annual customer report to just words, pictures and charts? As seen from the earlier Citizen example, digital page turner platforms now support video and audio seamlessly into beautiful publications. This allows you to make continued use of video content captured throughout the preceding year. Also, this can be an incredibly rich way of sharing just how impactful the work of your organisation has been for your communities.

But why stop there? Face-to-face events have always been another hugely important communication channel for social landlords with all stakeholders. Often the key messages in annual reports are used to underpin content at stakeholder days or lunches (that golden thread once again).

The best organisations are pushing themselves to consider how to really capture stakeholder attention with insightful keynote speakers (for instance Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation at the recent settle annual stakeholder day). Or using the venue to their advantage – whg’s recent stakeholder evening at an art gallery is a great example.

Being creative around how key messages are conveyed creates more opportunities in themselves to capture this information. For instance, for the past two years we have helped settle capture the key points of their stakeholder days in 10-minute podcasts that have proven incredibly useful to settle in conveying the key points of the day to stakeholders unable to attend.

So, while January may be the most dreary time of the year and thoughts of producing annual reports may fill you with dread, don’t despair! These present loads of opportunities to flex your creative muscles and really help your organisation push the boundaries of how it communicates with its key audiences.

Contact me or a colleague on social media or and we’d be delighted to discuss your project.

Stuart Macdonald is Managing Director of See Media