Creating an impact report, annual review, scientific yearbook or and brochure is a great way for life sciences organisations to demonstrate the impact and importance of their work to the audiences that matter most, whether they’re funders, stakeholders, policymakers, researchers or the wider public.

You can also pull out stories, quotes, graphics and case studies from your report for use in wider comms activities such as social media or blog posts, giving you a lot of bang for your buck. 

We’ve made a few high impact reports for our fabulous clients – for example:

Here, we share some behind-the-scenes insights into how we create reports like these, and our top tips for navigating the process smoothly.

Why do you need to produce an impact report?

Before you start drawing up plans and commissioning a writer, step back and think about the underlying purpose you want to achieve through creating a report. 

We always start our report projects by sitting down with the client and drilling into the details of who it’s aimed at, why these people need to know, what they need to be told, and what they should do once they’ve read it. 

Getting this stuff straight at the start helps the whole thing hang together with a clear purpose and narrative, ultimately making a report that’s readable and engaging rather than unfocused corporate bumph. 

How long does it take to create an impact report?

However long you think it will take to create your impact report or annual review, double it.

If you’ve never created a report before, you’ll soon find out that it’s a massive project that involves a lot of work and a substantial amount of time. 

Most impact reports take months to complete, even if there are no significant hitches. It takes time to go through the planning process, interview experts, research and write the copy, and lay out the design.

Plus, of course, there will be multiple rounds of sign off (probably with multiple people), as well as a couple of rounds of proofreading.

So if you have an important deadline, such as a government funding review or campaign launch date, you need to be thinking about your report months earlier. 

As an example, the reports we produced for the Medicines Manufacturing Challenge and the BSI/IVVN took 4 and 5 months from start to finish, respectively.

A great impact report starts with a great plan

We spend a lot of time at the start of a report project making sure we’ve mapped out all the details and timelines, so nothing gets overlooked and causes a panic later.

For a start, there are all the practical details like budgets, how long the report will be (number of pages and rough word counts), who’s writing and designing it, where you will source graphics and photos, and whether the report will be printed and/or digital. 

In terms of content, it’s essential to be clear up front about where the information for the report will come from. 

Do you want to have interviews with experts, patients, service uses or other stakeholders? If so, who? How many? And how do we contact them?

Do you have a list of relevant scientific publications or other academic sources or will the writer need to go digging in databases or archives? And are they freely available or paywalled?

Do you have all the data you want to include to hand in a suitable format, or will this need to be pulled together? Do you already have suitable infographics or do these need to be designed?

And what about access to other materials like presentations or internal documents? Do you have your own photographs or will you need to get stock images?

The list goes on – and you need to think about it right at the start.

How to stick to your timeline

The most significant contributor to delays in the process of producing an impact report or annual review is people.

While personal interviews are a great source of information for impact reports and annual reviews, they can significantly affect your timelines.

For example, it might be theoretically possible to arrange all of your interviews in a week. But this is improbable in real life where people go on holiday or fall ill, ignore your emails, or are just too busy to participate.

Make sure you build some wiggle room into the schedule, as well as a few suggestions for alternative interviewees.

Another big planning point is being clear on the signoff process. How many rounds of revisions will be required at each stage of the process from initial plans and drafts to the final proofread? Who needs to see which versions?

Also, how are you going to maintain strict version control? In a world of online collaborative workflows such as Google Docs and Sharepoint, nobody should be emailing multiple Word documents around. Even so, it’s still vital to be organised and vigilant to avoid that awful “Oh no! They made changes to the old version!” confusion.

If your signoff process isn’t decided and agreed in advance it can become endless, blowing your budget and your timeline.

There’s also risk that a key stakeholder may be missed out at a crucial point, which can cause major problems later down the line if they have issues with the content.

The more detail you put in your plan at the start, the fewer holdups and challenges there will be later, and the smoother the whole process will be. 

Get everyone on the same page

Once all the practical stuff is sorted, then it’s on to the content. 

We always do a brainstorming session right at the beginning of the report planning process with all the key stakeholders. This helps build essential relationships, gets everyone on board, and makes sure everyone feels heard.

During this session we’ll confirm the report’s objectives and map out the key themes and areas that need to be included, as well as ideas for experts, sources and case studies that illustrate them. We’ll also confirm the practical details like page number, word count, deadlines, processes and signoff.

There are bound to be too many ideas at this stage, so we’ll also run through a prioritisation exercise so everyone is clear on what’s definitely going in and what might have to be left out. We then draw up a priority list of stories to include and people to interview, along with some backups.

It’s vital that everyone who needs to be consulted is included at this stage.  If a key person can’t make your brainstorming session, rearrange it. Otherwise, they may be unhappy with the direction of the report and demand significant changes later on. 

It’s also a good idea to be frank at this stage about what should not be included or any areas of potential sensitivity to avoid accidental clangers and stakeholder wrangling down the line.

If you’re going to argue about what should be in the impact report or annual review, it’s best to do it now so that you’re all on the same page when the writing starts.

Create compelling content for your impact report

Before we start on creating the content, we’ll craft an overarching narrative that captures the overall direction, tone and message of the report.

As an example, for Securing the Future, this was simply, “The UK has done amazing veterinary vaccine research, but we need to keep going and build further because there are still many challenges and new threats.” 

Then we’ll develop a detailed content plan (flat plan) outlining page headings and the main points to be covered in each single or double page spread, as well as the word count for each.  In some cases, a client may have an existing design template for their reports, but in other cases we’ll work with their team or one of our own design partners to come up with a suitable framework.

The flat plan helps people visualise how the report will look. It also ensures the key stakeholders are happy with the overall content before we start writing and gives them an opportunity to point out anything we’ve missed. We’ll also start thinking about page furniture such as standfirsts, pull quotes and case study call-outs, which will help with the design later on.

Next, we conduct fact-finding interviews with subject experts, patients or other key stakeholders to help us get an understanding of the topic, landscape and opinions that need to be included in the report. Remember, you can’t interview everyone, so stick to the list of people you agreed at your brainstorm. 

Once the interviews are done, you will probably find yourself overwhelmed with information and opinions that you need to fit into your report. This is where it’s a huge advantage to have professional writers who can pick out all the key themes and weave them into a coherent piece of writing. And once the writing is done, a great editor will polish it so it sparkles.

While you’re writing, make sure you stick to the approved plan. That is, of course, unless something huge comes up like a global pandemic…

When we were writing the Celebrate Vaccines Report in early 2020 we had to quickly adapt the plan to include a double page spread on COVID vaccine research at the last minute. 

Perfect project management

Our top tips for pulling off great reports on short timescales and with minimum stress? Have a fantastic project manager (like one of our expert team), use a project management tool (we love Trello), and commit to regular check-ins to make sure everything’s running smoothly. One client said their meetings with our team were the highlight of their week! 

At First Create The Media, our project managers stay on top of the whole process from end to end, from liaising with the client team and their stakeholders, designers and other partners to keeping on top of version control. They also deal with all the administrative bits and bobs like licenses, permissions, copyright, data protection, and everything else. 

Inevitably with any project with this kind of scale and scope, a mistake will creep in at some point. It’s often the project manager, who has a bird’s eye view of the whole project at every stage, who catches them. 

For example, while creating an impact report for a client we were asked to add an additional quote in the final stages. This accidentally led to half a page being chopped off from the end of the report, which the designer overlooked. Our project manager quickly noticed the error and worked with the designer to move things around and rectify the problem with minimal fuss. 

Prioritise relationships

Big projects like impact reports and annual reviews are all about relationships, so make sure you prioritise them. Investing time in ensuring that everyone agrees and works harmoniously at the start of the project can help you avoid problems further down the road. 

You also need to have good, honest relationships with your writers, editors, and designers, whether they are contractors or in-house. This will help make the whole report writing less stressful and make problems easy to deal with, should they crop up. 

Need help to create an impact report that will hit the mark?

All of this might sound a bit overwhelming, but we’re here to help.

At First Create The Media we love working with our clients in the life sciences to help them get their message to the audiences that matter. We’re experts at creating impactful impact reports, inspiring annual reviews and beautiful brochures. 

Get in touch to see how we can help you navigate through the process, remove the stress, and ensure that your project gets finished on time, on budget – leaving you with a report you can be truly proud of.

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