At a client meeting yesterday, I produced a 20 page report on the first 2 months of digital activity (mainly social media, PPC and content related) for their new business. We spent 30 minutes going through it. At the end, they really understood exactly what their budget was delivering. Sound too good to be true? Well, with the right approach, it's easier than you think.
You can't create valuable reports without putting in the hard yards. This is two-fold. Firstly, it's often difficult to be able to really assess data without having spent considerable time actually planning and delivering the activities that generate the data you are gathering and reporting on. Secondly, the actual writing of your report will take time (in this case, 5 hours) to draft and finalise. You can't rush these things.
The right blend of graphics vs commentary
Some people love graphs, charts and so on, while others prefer to read results in tables or in chunks of text. You need to use the correct balance in order to succinctly get the key facts about the data across. I take feedback from clients on how they prefer to absorb data and then alter the reports accordingly. If you are creating graphs etc, don't make them overcomplicated, use simple colours and focus on the key data. Commentary adds so much value and ensures your client's aren't second guessing the results.
Don't be afraid of space
Don't try to cram things in to a few pages, it's better to have a nice clean layout than worry about number of pages, especially if the person the report is for is only likely to view on their computer, tablet etc.
Generate a snapshot, too
Try to create a 1-2 page summary alongside the full report that covers key metrics and results. People are busy and don't always have time to read a longer report, especially at the upper levels of a business.
Data that relates to sales
ROI, the thorn in the side of useless marketers across the globe. I'm not going to get into the whole 'ROI from social media/digital etc is hard to gauge' debate as quite frankly it's ridiculous and old, very very old. Yes, not all digital activity is designed to drive enquiries, sales or retain customers, but if it is, you better be able to show clearly in your report the effect of your work on those metrics. Business people live and breath on the bottom line. This relates to metrics in general, don't focus on fluffy vanity metrics, be sure to use those that truly reflect the effect of your work.
There are numerous ways of gathering data from the web, especially when it comes to social media. Don't put all of your eggs in one basket, try out various systems, compare the data that is generated by them and always take the time to know where and how the data is gathered.
Sleep on it
Yes, that's right, print off the report and use it as a pillow. Not really. Don't leave your report writing to the last minute! This will allow you to write it and then read it over the next day. I guarantee you find mistakes, or commentary that makes little sense to anybody other than you!
Turn your brain back
You (hopefully!) understand the metrics you're reporting on, but your client may not, try and go back to a time where you were new to this and write the report in a fashion that would make sense to you. Of course, your various client's may vary in knowledge, so write the report with their particular case in mind.
Practice makes perfect
Report writing is an essential skill for marketers across all areas of the field. Take the time to practice and iterate your reports and you'll not only please your clients, but really understand the value of your own work.