Shouting about your annual report

This article appeared in German in the 22nd edition of The Reporting Times (PDF) in May 2023

Stricter regulations and growing reporting requirements mean that modern corporate reports include ever more text. Defining core messages and communicating them to stakeholders is therefore an increasing challenge for companies. But there’s a trick you can use to get to the heart of even the longest report: the kitchen message.

KPIs, sustainability promises, social responsibility – today’s corporate reports have to cover a lot of ground. And the more you want – or need – to say about a topic, the harder it becomes to get straight to the point. To do so, you need to switch off the noise for a moment and focus on the core of your text.

This is precisely what the “kitchen message” is intended to do. This idea was the brainchild of former Stern editor-in-chief Henri Nannen, who instructed his journalists to draft their texts with a couple in mind. One person is reading the report in the living room, while the other prepares dinner in the kitchen. How will the reader explain the text to their partner? Remember, they’re yelling across the apartment – they’re not going to bother recapping the whole thing. Whatever they shout is the core message on which the whole text is built.

What are you your readers shouting?

The kitchen message is an old tool, but a reliable one. It cuts to the heart of the matter: the message your audience is actually getting, not all the extra details you want to include. Rather than asking yourself “What do I want to communicate?”, you’re forced to look at things from the opposite angle: “What response do I want to provoke in my audience?”

Figuring out your kitchen message means drilling down into a topic until you’ve identified its essence. This can be time-consuming, but it’s worth the effort: busy stakeholders aren’t going to do it for you. Once you’ve identified it, the kitchen message should feature prominently in the text: in the foreword, right after the introduction or even in the headline, so that even the most distracted readers can’t miss it.

“The core message is the guiding light of every company.”

Your core message should demonstrate a clear, emotional value, and communicate your vision or perspective: the reason you do what you do. And it should do so in less than two sentences. After that, you can lay out in detail how you aim to follow this guiding light, from financing measures to HR strategy. The core message helps you to stay oriented towards your company and, above all, its shareholders, throughout.

Finally, check that the concept as a whole holds up. Here’s the challenge for your next annual report: read the document through from start to finish. Then ask yourself what you would shout to your partner in the kitchen. Are you having trouble putting it into simple words? Then it’s time to go over the books again.

Cover image via Pexels

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