“What?!? Create a 50-page Annual Report?”, I said with wide eyes (well, as wide as they go) . Yes, creating a 50-page full-color Annual Report was going to be a shit-ton of work but our client had an important story to tell and this way we could reach 22,000 of their audience right in their homes, I was excited.
Most people know us as filmmakers but really, we are a storytelling agency. And while film is a primary outlet (arguably the most powerful form of storytelling on the planet) it is just one of many ways to tell a story. The important thing is to understand the audience and meet them where they are. In this case, our client mails an Annual Report to 22,000 of their Shareholders. So, I called in the Allstars and said, “Let’s go.”
See, for 5+ years our client, a Native Alaskan Corporation called Sealaska, have been trying to tell an important new story about their values and business direction. It is a bold and exciting shift for them; one that aligns with the values of their ancestors since time immemorial. This includes sustainable fisheries, carbon sequestration, language revitalization, and collaborations on community-led forest and stream restoration projects. In the spirit of the B Corporations, they are an example of what a true social enterprise can be. They still have a long road in front of them, but it is excited to see a for-profit company so committed to helping their communities and doing real work to protect the oceans and lands we all depend on.
So, how do you make a storytelling Annual Report? We traveled to remote villages to interview folks about their issues and perspectives. We met with elders. We talked to young people. We met with the executive teams and board leadership. We took hundreds of hours of film and 1,000s of photos. We wrote and wrote and wrote. We designed. We reviewed our creations with the executive team on a weekly basis for guidance. It was a cathartic experience for us and our client. Those who committed themselves to finding their truth and allowing us to represent that to their community of shareholders were deeply moved and more confident about the path they are on together.
The Annual Report is just one part of a 360-degree storytelling campaign (new website design, 3 part movie series, social media strategy) that we have designed and executed with our amazing partner Why For Good, but it is one example of how you can turn an otherwise mundane document into a storytelling opportunity.
“Why don’t they tell their own story?”, People sometimes ask. Well, it’s hard to tell your own story. It can be very complicated. Often organizations have a hard time seeing themselves clearly. Even storytellers struggle to tell their own story. Ask a writer to write their own bio for an event or ask a filmmaker to tell their own story (ahem…) and inevitably even these storytelling professionals struggle. We all need help. Our agency, Soulcraft Allstars, recently updated our website. We brought in an outside consultant to help us make sure we were telling our story objectively. It was a tremendous process that helped us grow.
So, what about that cover? Well, we knew that an Annual Report is easily ignored or discarded. People lead fast lives. Something coming by mail needs to stand out and grab your attention immediately. The cover was critical. It was our first opportunity to grab people’s attention and tell a story. As we thought of cover concepts, we asked ourselves what was most important to our client. The most important things to our client are their people and their lands. We wanted something bold that would promote pride. The tricky part was how to create something personal that also represented the whole. Our design team (Heidi Dikeman, Aaron Straight, Brandon Sawaya) met and photographer Brandon Sawaya brought up the idea of a double exposure. We quickly tested the idea (on staff and on friends). We loved the results.
We called them “Vision Images”. We traveled to rural villages in Alaska and took photos of the people we met and the land that was important to them. We ended up settling on a shot of Mitch Haldane, a young Tlingit man who had returned home to Alaska to manage the new Carbon Sequestration project for Sealaska. This project is protecting 165,000 acres of forested land while keeping it accessible for people in the community who rely on hunting and fishing for subsistence living. It is a huge turning point in the way Sealaska is managing their forests. This Vision Image is just the first of many. We featured a young woman Taylor Vantrease, wise beyond her years, from Kake, Alaska on the mailer envelope and we have another half dozen on the website (www.sealaska.com) and more in the works.
Once we had the cover, we began telling the Big story of Sealaska through a series of short articles based on our travels into the community. We visualized the data, and we photographed great stories in the community in an authentic editorial style.
The result is an Annual Report that feels more like a magazine about Ocean Health, Scholarship programs, Community Forestry, Language revitalization, and yes, of course, the financial picture. But instead of only focusing on the numbers, it was important to tell the stories of why. This is all 100% Sealaska’s authentic true self; five years in the making. They just needed a group of storytellers to help put that story together with care and creativity. It has been a great honor working with Sealaska and with our partner Why For Good. We have learned so much and have a profound respect for the Native people of Southeast Alaska. Storytelling for organizations making the world a better place for people and the planet, this is the work we love and that is exactly why we call ourselves Soulcraft. Thank you deeply for the opportunity to help. Respect.
To see more of our work on this campaign (movies, website design, social media channels, etc.) go to www.sealaska.com. It’s hard not to fall in love with this group of amazing folks making a real difference in the world. Respect.
Photos by Brandon Sawaya, Aaron Straight, and Heidi Dikeman | Soulcraft Allstars.
Annual Report Design by Heidi Dikeman | Soulcraft Allstars.
Written by Aaron Straight | Soulcraft Allstars.
Soulcraft Allstars is a Bellingham / Seattle based filmmaking and storytelling agency. If you are interested in learning more. Say hello: email@example.com