With the sale of Federal Government-owned ASC Pty Ltd at the height of interest within the financial community, primarily due to the announcement of a scoping study into the company to determine viability of sale, it was anticipated that ASC’s 2005 Annual Report would become a much sought after publication amongst potential future owners and investors.
The challenge was to present the Annual Report in such a way as to appropriately engage potential investors and owners that ASC is a company they can have confidence in and clarity about its viability for the future.
Ultimately, results were overwhelmingly positive. Requests for annual reports greatly outweighed previous years’ requests and formal methods of evaluation, including a silver award from the Australasian Reporting Awards, demonstrated that ASC successfully met its core objectives.
ASC Pty Ltd (formerly known as Australian Submarine Corporation) is a wholly-owned Government Business Enterprise (GBE) with its shares vested with the Minister for Finance and Administration, Senator Nick Minchin. Since acquiring the ownership of ASC in 2000, the Federal Government has promised that the company would be sold at an appropriate time in the future and become privatised.
With speculation rife about how and when ASC would be sold, coupled with the mid-2005 announcement that a scoping study into the sale of ASC would be undertaken from January 2006, it became apparent that ASC’s 2005 Annual Report represented a pivotal tool for communicating with potential investors, financial advisors and sale influencers about ASC’s capabilities, successes and viability.
Using the 2005 Annual Report as a mouthpiece for ASC’s business success also tied in with the company’s strategic objective to support the Minister for Finance and Administration by presenting the company in the best possible light for future sale.
A mix of formal and informal research methods were used to assist in the development of ASC’s Annual Report and meet the objectives established for this project.
An analysis of award winning annual reports, judged against financial advisors’ key criteria, and judged by the Australasian Reporting Awards was undertaken. This aspect of research involved sourcing annual report samples from all winning companies and evaluating the content, presentation and structure of reports that have been formally recognised as particularly useful and appealing to their target audiences.
An independent assessment panel of Australasian Reporting Awards’ judges were asked to critique ASC’s 2004 Annual Report for tactics and improvements that could be undertaken to enhance and improve the presentation of information in ASC’s 2005 Annual Report for an audience of potential future owners and investors.
ASC’s database of companies which had previously requested copies of annual reports was analysed and used as a basis for the development of the 2005 Annual Report distribution list. In addition, intelligence was sourced from an independent lobbying company regarding which individuals and businesses held interest or influence in ASC’s sale. This information proved vital in the development of an appropriate distribution list.
Finally, ASC sought direction from the Department of Finance and Administration with relation to the sort of messages and corporate positioning they preferred ASC to follow. Much of the development of ASC’s 2005 Annual Report was designed to meet the needs stipulated by ASC’s ‘owner’.
While each year ASC’s Annual Report is provided to a range of stakeholders, including employees, members of Defence Materiel Organisation and the Royal Australian Navy (ASC’s customer organisations), key defence and business journalists, and selected politicians, this time development of the annual report was designed to appeal to very specific publics.
To maximise the appeal of ASC for future sale purposes, the company’s 2005 Annual Report targeted:
- Potential investors;
- Financial advisors; and
Influencers of the sale process, including key business people, selected politicians and competitors.
The strategy for ASC’s 2005 Annual Report specifically revolved around the development and distribution of the report.
From a design perspective, the annual report had to be easily identifiable as an ASC publication, including strong incorporation of company branding and product photography (Collins Class submarines and air warfare destroyers). Refer to (1) in Appendix A.
It was deemed important that the Board of Directors were presented in a unified and informed way as a means of inciting the audiences’ confidence that the Board can effectively lead the company through sale. Refer to (2) in Appendix A.
By the same token, it was decided that the Executive Group would be presented in-situ to demonstrate a ‘hands-on’ approach to managing the company and that the leadership team is fully integrated within the business. Refer to (3) in Appendix A.
Following a financial year of many successes, the strategy included the incorporation of double page highlights throughout the ‘Review of Operations’ section to reinforce the huge milestones ASC had achieved during the period. It was felt that these pages would serve to re-draw attention to major achievements that the company had independently publicised throughout the year. Refer to (4) in Appendix A.
Careful development of content was also a factor within the communications strategy. It was especially important that a correct balance between reporting relevant information for the target audiences and not inundating readers with trivial details was maintained.
Finally, from a development standpoint, it was determined that ASC’s 2005 Annual Report strategy would follow guidelines as prescribed by feedback from the Australasian Reporting Awards’ judges.
In order for the distribution of the annual report to be targeted, relevant and reach intended target audiences, the communications strategy incorporated consultation with an external lobbying company for intelligence gathering on those with potential interest in ASC’s sale process.
In addition, it was determined that ongoing liaison with the Department of Finance and Administration would provide further insight into inclusions for the distribution list.
Implementation of ASC’s 2005 Annual Report communications strategy was carried out in a multi-phased process:
ASC’s commissioned its major graphic design company (most familiar with company branding) to prepare creative concepts for the annual report based on a substantial creative brief, which included parameters for photography, content, style, length, print quality and production timeframes.
The selected design was ultimately chosen for its strong branding and links to ASC’s products – namely Collins Class submarines and air warfare destroyers. Refer to (5) in Appendix A.
Timing of the photography for the annual report was planned to coincide with planned submarine maintenance activities to ensure that the best possible product shots could be gained.
At the same time, ASC sourced suitable air warfare destroyer photography from world wide shipbuilders for incorporation into the report.
Sourcing suitable locations for the Board and Executive Group photography was a challenging task. A suitably sized room was sought for the six directors to be photographed together behind a long table, while individual executive shots were created in mock environments relevant to their positions.
ASC exhausted its extensive photography library to adequately portray its key achievements on the scattered highlights pages. Photos incorporating product and influential individuals were deliberately selected. Refer to (4) in Appendix A.
All content was developed in close consultation with directors, Executive Group members and key business functions. This information was researched by the Communications team in the first instance, and then drafted and finessed in collaboration with relevant personnel across the company.
For consistency, all information was cross checked and compared with company statements made during the year.
Key inclusions and exclusions were considered as prescribed by feedback received from the Australasian Reporting Awards’ judges, including the incorporation of an opening company statement, avoidance of personnel ‘hero’ shots and incorporation of subheadings in large blocks of text to assist the reader to breakdown information relevant to them.
At the final stage, content was quality checked by multiple personnel and proofread by an additional party.
Adhering to a stringent timeline was mandatory for the successful implementation of ASC’s 2005 Annual Report communication strategy. As a Government Business Enterprise, wholly-owned by the Australian Government, ASC is required to table its annual report in Parliament each year as per Hansard timing requirements.
To meet timing requirements, the promotional part of ASC’s Annual Report (everything except the financial section) was completed in early August, leaving only the quick incorporation of the financial section once the figures became available.
This schedule resulted in no unnecessary delays to the tabling of the annual report in Parliament.
ASC sourced information pertaining to parties interested in ASC’s sale from the Department of Finance and Administration. In addition, the company engaged a private lobbying company to gather intelligence as to which businesses, individuals, politicians, competitors are key influencers and interested in, or have a stake in, the sale of ASC. Together, these lists formed the bulk of the distribution.
A compilation of companies and individuals who have requested copies of ASC’s annual report in the based was analysed, updated and incorporated into the distribution list also.
Once ASC’s 2005 Annual Report had been tabled in Parliament, ASC distributed its annual report to its distribution list together with a letter from the Managing Director presenting the report for their observation.
A media release, together with a copy of the annual report, was sent under embargo to key financial and defence journalists highlighting the major achievements and key financial information from the report. Refer to (6) in Appendix A.
In addition, the Annual Report was immediately posted to ASC’s website (post tabling in Parliament).
 ASC was selected as the shipbuilder for Australia’s Air Warfare Destroyer Program on 31 May 2005 and therefore construction or completed air warfare destroyer photos cannot be obtained from within Australia until the start of construction in 2009. ASC therefore had to source similar air warfare destroyer images from other shipbuilders around the world who had built similar vessels.
 Hansard tabling requirements are typically earlier than timeframes other annual reports prescribe to.
 The majority of ASC’s key financial and defence journalists are members of the Press Gallery in Parliament House. During sitting times, and while annual reports are tabled, journalists are provided with a copy of all tabled publications (as per Hansard requirements) and thus embargoing the report enabled members of the media to gain an advanced insight into ASC’s results.
Qualitative feedback obtained from the Department of Minister for Finance and Administration was overwhelmingly positive. Prior to tabling in Parliament, the report is traditionally submitted to the Minister for amendment (if necessary) and approval. In this instance, the Minister requested no changes to report and replied that the report contained excellent content and was of a particularly high standard of quality.
Over a six month period, ASC received 212 external requests for copies of its Annual Report. This number is in addition to the 2,600 copies of the annual report that were distributed to ASC’s distribution list. This figure is an increase on the previous year’s annual report distribution by 2,100 copies.
ASC tracked the number of downloads the annual report generated from its website. Over a six month period, the total number of hits was 401.
In March 2006 ASC received a formal Senate report from the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee that its 2005 Annual Report had met satisfactory parliamentary tabling regulations. This is the highest form of acknowledgment when tabling in Parliament.
Also in March 2006 ASC received formal notification that its 2005 Annual Report had won a silver national Australasian Reporting Award. Refer to (7) in Appendix A.
In April 2006 ASC received formal notification that is 2005 Annual Report had won a gold national award for ‘excellence in printing’ by the Thirty Third Annual Australian Print Awards. Refer to (8) in Appendix A.
 This capability can only track the number of times an external user of ASC’s website opened the Annual Report file. This capability can not determine how long users viewed the content or where those users were based.
Given the sensitivities surrounding the impending sale of ASC, and the fact that many individuals and companies prefer to remain ‘silently’ interested in evaluating ASC’s viability, evaluation has proven to be quite difficult.
However, against the four set objectives the following evaluation can be drawn:
Production of a clean, crisp and appealing report that is image-heavy in ASC’s products – submarines and air warfare destroyers – to clearly associate the company with its primary purpose and strong in identifiable company branding;
The design deliberately incorporates strong ASC branding on every page of the report (blue waves).
Winning a silver national Australasian Reporting Award (which evaluates design as well as content) further endorses that this objective is met.
In addition, winning a gold national printing award acknowledges the high-quality print production of the report and reinforces ASC’s success in meeting Objective 1.
Qualitative feedback obtained from the Minister and Department of Financial and Administration has been overwhelming positive, indicating that ASC did indeed support to the Department’s sale objectives for ASC through the presentation of the Annual Report.
By incorporating guidelines as prescribed by judges of the Australasian Reporting Awards and subsequently winning a national silver Australasian Reporting Award for its 2005 Annual Report, ASC has clearly demonstrated its achievement of the third objective.
Annual reports are assessed by the Australasian Reporting Awards against criteria as prescribed by the financial community.
ASC allocated a substantial portion of its budget to engage a specialist lobbying company to obtain information that would specifically address this goal.
An appropriate distribution list was developed containing the names of businesses and individuals with long-standing interests in ASC. The incorporation of both of these lists resulted in a comprehensive distribution group.