Q+A: Karen Almeida, Head of Advisory

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Head of Advisory Karen Almeida on the future of corporate reporting and why brilliant information design is so critical for delivering communications with impact.

The world of reporting is fast-paced and intense – tell us how you caught the reporting bug.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a huge interest in business – in how businesses work, what makes them successful (or not, in some cases) and where market leaders pull ahead of the competition.

I started my career as a product manager at Reuters and was lucky to spend lots of time in the newsroom with the financial newswire journalists as they broke stories. They taught me to think about how and why company news can be market-moving. I was soon hooked, and that’s never left me.

Moving into investor relations, I loved hearing the executive team talking to investors about the company’s strategy and plans and helping to craft the investment case, but there are only so many ways to tell the same story! The great thing about working agency-side is the variety – you help lots of businesses to tell their stories and see how they evolve over time.

Working with a wide range of clients – whether it’s engineering and aerospace or finance or media – is endlessly stimulating. And while every sector has its distinctive characteristics, there can be a read-across from one to another that can give you a helpful perspective.

For example, pharma and mining companies produce very different products but both invest a lot of money in researching and developing assets over long periods of time before they can generate a return on them. There are similarities in their business models and their approaches to partnering with others to pool expertise and share risk.

What brought you to Conran Design Group in 2013?

My time at Reuters included stints in corporate strategy, employee comms and speechwriting for the CEO and COO, which in turn led me to the investor relations team and responsibility for the annual report. I learned about the intersection between narrative and numbers, and the need to be rigorous and to challenge. But I also saw how design and branding can be transformational in bringing a report to life and engaging readers in a way that 20,000 words of plain text just don’t do.

After Reuters, I worked at Ofcom, the telecoms and media regulator, communicating the finer points of economic regulatory decisions to analysts and journalists. But I missed the buzz of a faster-moving news cycle and the challenge of bringing together all the elements of the annual report into a polished whole. That being so, I moved to another reporting agency and then joined Conran Design Group in 2013 to head up the consulting and advisory arm for reporting and corporate comms.

I knew immediately that I wanted to work here when I walked through the gates of our old offices in Camden on a sunny day in May and met the team: smart, interesting people who obviously enjoyed working together. 

‘I saw how design can be transformational in bringing a report to life and engaging readers in a way that 20,000 words of plain text just don’t do.’

Since joining us, how has the world of reporting changed?

The reporting industry was on the cusp of change back then. The strategic report regulations were re-shaping the way reports were written and corporate governance and remuneration were coming into the spotlight. The pace of change hasn’t slowed since – new regulation keeps on coming and ESG is front and centre. 

Reports are also getting longer as content requirements have increased, and reporting suites are becoming more fragmented. FTSE 350 annual reports have become almost 70% longer on average over the last five years. While design is just as important as it was 10 years ago, the emphasis has changed. There’s been a shift from photo shoots around the world to really effective information design. How do you make sure your content is accessible and interesting to look at? It's about hierarchy of content, layouts, structure, navigation, great case studies and landing your key messages.

We ask clients: ‘If someone were to pick up your report and flick through it for five minutes, which five things would you want them to remember?’ That helps sharpen the focus. 

The other thing that’s changed is audiences. The annual report used to be a document for investors, but a regulatory shift a few years ago broadened the emphasis. Companies and boards are now explicitly required to think about their purpose and their stakeholders – including employees, customers, suppliers, partners and regulators – which in turn means we need to think differently about the report’s content and emphasis. For many companies now, employees and potential employees are a key audience, and 80% of FTSE 100 companies are putting purpose front and centre in their reports.



And what about the shift to digital? Not new, but definitely a consideration for our clients.

It varies by sector, obviously, but while lots of companies now say they are taking a digital-first approach to their operations, there’s often more to do when it comes to optimising their reporting for online use. Should the report be portrait – or does landscape work better online? Which other assets – like videos and animations – do you need to supplement your reporting?

Ensuring your annual report content resonates with different audiences in different channels – audiences who won’t be sifting through a long PDF – is crucial. The average age of fund managers is mid-30s, which means they’re used to consuming content digitally and reporting needs to adapt to that.

 In terms of maximising the impact of the report, social plays a crucial role, and can drive really impressive results. A social animation we produced for Nokia last year performed exceptionally well; it was their second most-watched video on Facebook in 2022 with over 11.6k views.

We also encourage clients to use digital process tools and systems such as CtrlPrint and W-Desk that can make the content editing process easier – and electronic tagging of reports is growing in scope year-by-year.

‘The average age of fund managers is mid-30s: they’re used to consuming content digitally and reporting needs to adapt to that.’

Given the changing nature of reporting, what kind of consultancy support do we offer our clients?

We share trends and updates during the year, and always look at messaging and themes for the report in question. We also advise on regulatory changes, offer best practice insights and competitor analysis, and act as a sounding board for clients all the way through their reporting cycles.

We start by working out the story they want to tell; we then look at how the report’s structure and content supports that. Sometimes we’ll recommend they expand certain sections, or change the content, or introduce new case studies or interviews. Or it might be about introducing clever data visualisation to bring information to life in a more accessible way. We’ll provide advice on digital reporting and how to plan the report as a rich source of messages, information and assets to lift and repurpose in wider comms.

If clients are looking to talk about a specific issue – be it environmental performance or D&I – we advise on the best way to do that. How do they compare with their peers and how should they be communicating their progress? How do we ensure they hit the right tone and position their story in the right way? We also help ensure the language they’re using is consistent across the entire report, and we can review the report at the end of the project to ensure that it complies with reporting regulations.

Where do companies most commonly trip up with their annual report?

Investor and audience expectations are changing quickly; investors and proxy voting advisors are increasingly vocal about what they expect companies to disclose, and they expect as much or more transparency in ESG reporting as in the financials. Companies who adopt the ‘less is more’ approach are often marked down by investors.

Also, reporting runs to tight deadlines and needs sign-off from the most senior people in the business who are always busy and juggling priorities. Last minute curveballs coming in from a late review can be disruptive and compromise the quality of the report. It’s important to engage early and get buy-in from the management team and the board on themes, key messages, planned changes and significant new disclosures before the report is written.

And which annual reports have you really enjoyed working on in recent years?

I love that the reports we work on are so different, from the bright impactful programme imagery in ITV’s to the warmth and people-focused approach of Bunzl’s to the elegant simplicity of Rolls-Royce plc’s.

It’s also rewarding to see the evolution of a report over several years as the corporate narrative develops – Bunzl and Essentra are great examples of this. When a company refreshes its corporate brand, it’s a great opportunity to reinvigorate the annual report – this year, we’ve done that for Nokia, Spectris and Convatec.



Any unexpected side hustles or hobbies?

Now that things are more normal after the pandemic, I’ve decided that 2023 is my year of culture, so I’m looking forward to the Vermeer exhibition in Amsterdam and Hamnet in Stratford-upon-Avon in the next couple of months. And I’m looking for recommendations for later in the year!

I’m also a keen baker and have been known to bring in cakes for birthdays and other celebrations. And this links back to my favourite thing about Conran Design Group – we have such a great time working together. To me, it really does feel like home: it’s a place where people are so supportive, where everybody works incredibly hard, where there’s a lot of fun to be had and where we really enjoy the work we do.

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