Thursday, October 30, 2008

new media adapters: annual report revs up

After reporting on how foundations are struggling with changing their print annual reports to web 2.0 versions, it's great to see one foundation take its annual report and rev it up--in more ways than one. The Missouri Foundation for Health has issued its latest annual report, titled "Paving the Way to Better Health in Missouri," using Flash, video and interactive features to let you drive through a "roadtrip" about its accomplishments from the past year. In fact, it's a format that can't be replicated on paper--no duplication here.

The report goes well beyond the current widespread practice of simply posting a PDF file of a printed report online--and the impact is immediate, with the roadtrip analogy carried throughout in graphics and text. The loading screen shows an animation of a fuel gauge filling up, and the opening screen features a roadsign with the report title and an immediately-loaded video introduction to the report--an engaging and brief overview. Click on the ignition key, and you'll hear a car rev up as the screen shifts to a driver's-eye view of a dashboard (your navigation device for the roadtrip) and the road ahead. As it rushes toward you, highway road signs highlighting sections of the report appear on the right--just as they would on the road--and video windows open to the left, showcasing grantees, with no video longer than a minute. The road signs also feature short text to amplify points: lists of grant recipients, key accomplishments or data points. Best of all, you're literally in the driver's seat, and can navigate, as it were, using the dash, a table of contents, or forward and back arrows.

The Communications Network in Philanthropy features the report here, sharing good insights from our colleague Bev Pfeifer-Harms, the foundation's director of communications, on cost and vendor issues, how the message was developed, and the internal support from the top for innovation--a key to making this happen. Pfeifer-Harms also notes this effort is prompting foundation staff to think of ways to promote its work all year, rather than once a year.

Looking through that windshield, here's what I see as the take-away lessons for communications directors contemplating the adaption of their annual reports for new-media formats:

  • Choose a message or analogy that reflects the medium: Because the automotive/roadtrip theme is visual and involves movement, it's the ideal underscore to the fast-moving pace of new and social media, not just in video, but in the features that direct the eye around the screen and allow the viewer to control the pacing. Engaging eyeballs--instead of just counting them--makes this a rich visual experience that makes the message stick, without being static.
  • Take the time to carry your message through: Sometimes there's a fine line between carrying a message through thoroughly and beating it to death, but that line isn't crossed here--and the carry-through is done on verbal and visual levels. Even the idea of the foundation "paving the way" is appropriate: It provides the infrastructure funding that allows you to move forward on the road to better health, so the analogy carries through in describing its own unique role.
  • Find ways to engage the viewer at every stage: From the loading screen's fuel gauge to the turn-key start and the dashboard, this report demands involvement and attention. The dashboard and videos make this close to the look and feel of a video game--a plus, compared to a long, dry report.
  • Keep it short and full of action: Those one-minute videos defy the notion that you can't describe something in that short a time--check them out! A tenet of my trainings is to entice viewers and listeners with a short summary to start, and have them curious about learning more, rather than dousing them with every fact you know. This report shows how to do just that.
  • Take advantage of the format to go viral: With an annual report in this format, the foundation is well-poised to extend its reach to new audiences by posting it on YouTube and Facebook, alerting readers to the URL via Twitter, repurposing each section on a blog, and more.
My hope is that the foundation takes advantage of this smart message and engaging format, carrying that message through in speeches and other communications to its core audiences, drawing attention to the new report--and helping to park its message firmly in the driveway of its audiences' minds.

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