Annual publications in financial services: how to avoid yours going bad


Annual publications are an entrenched feature of the financial services thought leadership landscape. Most consulting firms have one, if not many, annual reports targeting the sector. Only this week, I’ve been looking at Capgemini’s World Wealth Report (founded over 20 years ago), KPMG’s Global Anti-Money Laundering Survey (launched 2004) and EY’s Financial Services IT Risk Management Survey (also published in 2008 and 2013).

There are clearly many benefits from a marketing perspective to a repeated publication. The consulting firms we work with tell us that the imposed discipline is helpful: the fact that it’s a feature in the external calendar helps them plan for it and around it, and that regularity ensures that the firm keeps returning to its target audience and creates an ongoing relationship with them. It’s also clear that firms get extra publicity when they become known for a specific topic – they become an obvious source of comment for relevant stories in the media and can get a lot of media coverage on the back of rankings which tend to appeal to the “Who’s beating who?” mentality in all of us. Finally, not surprisingly, an established annual publication definitely deters others from encroaching on that thought leadership space.

But it’s not just about marketing: the annual nature of these publications can also have a positive impact on the quality of what is created in the first place. Firms tell us it’s much easier to convince external parties to get involved when they have a strong understanding of the end product and how their input will be used. It’s often easier to get support (and funding) from internal sources, too, when there’s evidence of the effectiveness of the output. What’s more, having multiple years of data opens up new avenues for analysis, and longevity tends to convey credibility to the reader. And then there’s feedback – from both internal and external users – which means that firms can improve the end product year on year.

And yet, despite all these obvious advantages, we still see annual publications that fail to deliver. Why? Here are the top three reasons we’ve noticed:

  1. The goal of reaching a large audience and focusing on issues that will remain relevant for a long time leads to a shallow report lacking insight. Longevity is not enough to deliver value to the end reader.
  2. The report relies too heavily on a large quantitative survey and fails to identify what the findings mean to the reader or to introduce qualitative research that brings the material to life and engages the reader. The sense that the report is important leads to a desire to make it long, often including a foreword, executive summary, and detailed information about survey findings which would be far better conveyed graphically.

So, don’t give up on the annual publication, but do ensure that it’s relevant and insightful, that it builds on a range of knowledge, and that it offers a really good return on investment for your reader’s time.

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