The 10 Things Every Report Needs If You Want It To Get Into The C-Suite

Man holds tablet in front of stylized figures.

This article is especially appropriate for measurement people working at Sherpa Level 1.

I’ve spent a good deal of my professional life trying to get my reports noticed by the people I work for. And I’ve spent way too much of my time reading reports that just don’t do their job. Here’s what I’ve learned:

10 things every good report needs if you want it to get it into the C-Suite:

  1. A message. What’s the one takeaway that you want people who are reading your report to remember? Are you producing the report to win support, get bigger budget, or change the way things are done? Whatever it is, then that key message needs to flow throughout your report.
  2. A story. Don’t obsess over the charts, graphs, and numbers. They’re only there to illustrate the story you are telling. The story narrative is what people will remember, so make sure it’s the right one.
  3. So what? Anyone who has ever put down a report and thought, “So what?” will know what I’m talking about. The report says, “We got this many hits, xx were positive,” and then lists all the stories and then includes the full text of all the stories. What conclusion could you come to other than, “Why did I just read this? It doesn’t tell me anything?” PR and social media agencies in particular are guilty of this terrible habit. Do I really need to remind you that you are being paid for your advice and good judgment? Of all people, you should be able to digest the data and tell your clients the context of the results.
  4. Now what? The biggest failure of most reports is that they don’t tell anyone what lessons they’ve learned from the data. What  should be done differently next time?
  5. A standard format. Humans like a bit of consistency in their lives. They like knowing where to look for that one key metric that will tell them how things really went (or are going.) So establish a standard format. It might look like this:
    • Page 1 – Report parameters, methodology, and key numbers.
    • Page 2 – Overview of all numbers that matter (and only those that matter).
    • Page 3 – Trend chart showing progress over time.
    • Page 4 – One page that shows the most dramatic numbers that reinforce the message you’re trying to get across.
    • Page 5 – Conclusions and recommendations.

Make sure you are consistent in your use of colors: Red is negative, green is positive, gray is neutral. If you are doing competitive analysis, then make sure whatever color you assign to a competitor in the first slide is the same every time that competitor appears in your report.

  1. A thorough methodology. No one may pay attention to it the first time the data is presented, but when it gets passed around a month later, people will need a refresher.
  2. A constant reminder of the time-frame on which you are reporting. Clearly label every chart and graph with the data, and what is being analyzed.
  3. Page numbers. I know I’m sounding sophomoric, but you’d be surprised at how many reports I’ve seen without them.
  4. Pithiness. If your report has a prayer of ending up in the board room you need to appreciate the value of the real estate that you’re aspiring to. Most board members do not have a very long attention span: Slightly longer than a kitten’s, but shorter than a three-year old’s. Don’t push your luck. Every word needs to have weight and support your message. Throw out any slide, chart, or graph that doesn’t reinforce your message. I don’t care if “it’s always been in there.” If it doesn’t help tell the story, throw it out.
  5. References. If you site a study or reference a data point, the source better be available, at least via a link in the presentation. ∞


About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.