To craft a coherent message about its purpose-driven business model, U and I Group plc (U+I) worked with Gather on an annual report and corporate website which focused on creating a clear, simple narrative with a distinctive approach and stakeholder stories at its heart
U+I clearly has a different approach to development. With a clear idea of its role in society, and in-depth understanding of its audiences, there was a strong foundation already in place to tell their story. What lacked was a consistent way to communicate with clarity to its investors, partners, communities and employees.
It did what few others do. It made its annual report one of the centre pieces of its communications; a way of really bringing to life its purpose-driven communications strategy. The result was a beautiful book that aligned with the corporate brand and online presence while bringing the company’s purpose into focus in a cohesive way.
And for that, it became multi-award winning, most recently taking home the ‘Best use of print’ gold award at the 2020 Corporate Content Awards. Judges called it a “beautifully designed and executed, high-quality work,” and a “genuine and honest” piece of communications. One added that it, “Stepped out of the usual way of doing things.” That last comment could be extended to U+I itself. Communications consultancy Gather, which worked with U+I on the annual report and website redesign said the company approaches things in a different way than other developers might. “Purpose drives performance,” says Richard Orr, creative director at Gather about U+I’s point of differentiation. “It drives absolutely everything. And that was how we approached this design.”
The development of the annual report focused on supporting U+I’s positioning, its purpose and the way it communicated about itself to its stakeholders. Nicola Krafft, head of investor relations at U+I says, “The main objective was to create a bold, engaging annual report, that showed how U+I’s distinctive and purpose driven approach drives its financial performance. We wanted the annual report to show a step change in terms of best practice, with better linkage and more succinct story-telling, building on the new website we’d created with Gather earlier in the year.”
It took a bold approach to do so. The report itself is a hefty 200 plus page tome full of bespoke photography, eye-catching typography and informative storytelling, alongside the usual financial reporting requirements. But where the annual report stood out with judges was in a unique addition it made. A short insert was included in every report that told some of the stories of U+I’s regeneration projects, featuring photography from those sites and including purpose-centred communications. It was intended to make things easier for the reader, to clearly communicate the business’ purpose and how that is implemented in practice.
As an addition to the annual report, it sets the context for the following information for investors, analysts, potential contractors and the media. But as a piece of content in its own right, its value extends far beyond that. It is used as an introduction to the business, it’s included in new starter packs, it clarifies the company’s positioning in tenders and when talking to councils and local communities. Krafft says, “We wanted our existing and potential investors, as well as our partners and other stakeholders, to be as excited by the work that we do as we are, by bringing to life some of our schemes and giving them a document they would enjoy reading. The report evolved over time as we agreed the direction of travel for the design, photography and messaging.” Krafft adds that the insert gave the annual report longevity, retaining its relevance long past the typical lifespan of a financial document.
Orr added that this allowed some of the group’s projects to come to life, shedding light on its bespoke approach to regeneration. “There are no cookie cutter projects,” he says. “This isn’t a company that delivers 10,000 glass boxes a year. It is bespoke. That was our creative way in.” To tell that story, he says Gather conducted in-depth interviews across the business and deployed real artefacts and imagery from the building sites. “Any image that helped tell the story were right. Any words that helped tell the story were right,” says Orr. “There was no filter on it.”
One story in particular exemplified this strategy. The Preston Barracks project is a redevelopment of a former barracks and military hospital. To showcase the heritage in that site, Gather used an image of a blood bag, with subtle information that relates to the site’s history as well as its redevelopment. This helped represent U+I’s positioning of breathing life back into an area simply because it is the right thing to do. Orr says, “U+I take their time; they really put their heart and soul into things. They believe in them. They engage with the community.”
While the stories were inspiring and the imagery and projects themselves interesting, for Gather, it was also about helping communicate the company’s positioning in a clear, cohesive way. “We need to remember that this annual report is part of a network of communications, says Orr. “The website, corporate presentations, they’re all now saying the same thing. U+I is a fantastic purpose-led brand that knows its stuff. It just needed clear storytelling.”
Recognising that this was a multi-stakeholder document, Gather had to ensure the communications could work for everyone from new starters to potential employees to partners, communities, investors and shareholders. Doing so, while retaining an element of longevity impressed judges at the Corporate Content Awards. Will Davenport, Gather’s client director says, “It’s about understanding and respecting the people that are going to ultimately read it. Half the challenge is making sure that all of the content that various audiences want is in here and that it’s easy to find, but that it is also telling a truthful story.” This authenticity avoids the spin other companies might rely on to influence stakeholders. Gather ensured the content it was creating was true to the business and to its communities first and foremost.
And the result was not just award-winning communications, but a re-emphasis of U+I’s commitment to regeneration. By clarifying its purpose to its stakeholders, it is better prepared for carrying out that purpose in practice. The team is currently working on the next iteration of the annual report, ensuring consistency of messaging across web, print and in-person communications in the process.