Three Tips for Exceptional Report Building

When clients and brand agencies work together, whether that work is digital, print or video, they need to analyze results and make decisions moving forward. Reports validate the work being done. No matter which side you’re on, everyone receives and presents reports.

In my career, I’ve been on both sides of this partnership and have seen—and sometimes created—my fair share of good and bad reports. Now that I’m back on the agency side and working as a strategist, I have spent some time thinking about how to create the perfect report.

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all report. You’ll have to build each around the client’s specific needs, focusing on format, communication and timing.

Here’s how to create a report that clients can really use.

1. Create a Well-Designed Report

Always ask, “Does this solve the client’s needs?”

The main goal of your report should be to provide clients with information they can use to make decisions that affect their business. It’s important to understand exactly what the client is trying to achieve. You should be able to answer three key questions:

  1. What is the business objective?
  2. How can we achieve the objective?
  3. How is success measured?

Choose relevant data.

Once you can answer those three questions, you can determine what data needs to be included on the report. Far too often, we tend to report on the same metrics (website traffic, social media engagement, number of blog posts published, etc.) as defined by our industry or functions. Don’t assume that you can take a generic report format and then copy and paste the client’s results. Instead, review your answers to the three questions above and pick relevant data.

For example, showing a monthly page-view increase of 30% means very little if the customer is expecting to see increases in newsletter signups. A better representation of the data is to lead with the increase/decrease and percent change of newsletter signups, and then show supporting data that helps explain the results.

2. Communication is key

When I was on the client side and receiving reports, there were many times I had no idea what was being presented or if the work was actually producing the results I expected. Reports are only helpful if they’re easy to interpret.

Minimize jargon.

Be sure to tailor communication to the level of the client. It’s easy to forget that as the agency, you’re the subject-matter expert. The client may not be as well informed. Avoid using acronyms or other jargon that the client may not recognize. If an acronym is industry standard, provide the full name in the first mention, along with the acronym in parentheses to help the client become more familiar with the term. Say “click-through rate (CTR)” before switching to just “CTR.” Do this for the first few reports you give the client.

Explain the results.

In addition to minimizing jargon, provide a brief explanation for the metrics provided. Space may be limited, so including an appendix or separate document that explains the metrics simply is never a bad idea. This will help the client better understand the results and how they relate to the three key questions above.

Be honest.

When you have determined the format and content of the report, remember to maintain integrity. Present what’s in the data truthfully, rather than just finding increases that make it look like the work is successful. If numbers are down, don’t be afraid to report them as down. Simply provide explain why and recommend a plan of action to get things moving back in the right direction again.

Go the extra mile.

The last thing to consider is the delivery. While it’s easy to just email the report and move on to the next task, it’s not always the best method. Consider the purpose of the report. Will an email and a brief note adequately explain everything? If it won’t, schedule a meeting with the client over the phone or in person. Be sure to send the report in advance, so the client can be prepared with questions.

3. Be Adaptive

The next step is frequency. How often should you report to the client? Weekly? Monthly? Quarterly? It all comes down to the first question: “Does this solve the client’s needs?”

The best strategy is to be adaptive to the needs of the client. If you find that reports are being sent too frequently to show meaningful data, you can work with the client to adjust the delivery period based on the data.

The Final Countdown

I know there was a lot of information covered above, so here’s a quick recap to help you build a better report.

  1. Design the report around the needs of the client.
  2. Communicate clearly with the client.
  3. Be adaptive and provide quick-turn reports as needed.
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