Navigating the digital shift in Annual Report communications
By Diane Omari and Febin Varughuese
A company’s Annual Report today goes far beyond a summary of the business as a whole. The Annual Report has evolved from being a compilation of a management report, corporate governance code and annual financial statements, into a crucial storytelling tool. A best practice report effectively weaves together a number of significant stories into one compelling narrative – a bold, inspiring and informative piece of content that engages with your stakeholders.
But techniques of storytelling have continued to evolve, surpassing the confines of traditional media. Today, the Digital Annual Report is considered best practice in terms of engaging the investor and ensuring wide accessibility. This shift towards digital is even more apparent amid the Covid-19 pandemic, where it has become more common for companies to host virtual Annual General Meetings (AGMs) rather than to meet in person. This has decreased the importance of having Annual Reports printed and proven the convenience of a Digital Annual Report.
Companies choose their communication method depending on the target audience. It is important that companies identify the optimal online format, which most engages with their stakeholders. This is usually one of three formats that complement the print report: An HTML online Annual Report (fully developed microsite), an online summary of the print version on the corporate website, or an interactive PDF.
The microsite emerges as the clear winner
Having an online report is advantageous due to its large potential reach. Such a report is easily accessible through search engines and allows for remote access to the full Annual Report. In this sense, the reports have a longer life, which is ideal for companies that have spent a great amount of time and resources to finalise the contents and design. A further benefit is that digital reports may be accessible on mobile devices and are more compatible with them as compared to PDFs. Other benefits include the ability to integrate films and interactive tables or charts, bringing the content to life and increasing engagement.
Including a film is also becoming more widespread. They often consist of upper management articulating their view on the company’s achievements during the year, reflecting on progress and discussing future plans. Alternatively, they may use corporate footage or animations to highlight key points.
The beauty of brevity
As the shift to digital reporting is becoming more common, many companies tend to overwhelm the online report with a great deal of content and detail. While they aim to direct the audience’s attention to important developments, this often results in an information dump that misses the mark. Most online users prefer to scan key highlights and jump straight into the C-suite statements, while leaving the rest to be downloaded later, if required. As a result, static images and graphs have given way to interactive tables and charts, while messages once communicated through dull blocks of text are replaced or enhanced with graphics that better engage the viewer. Readers prefer eye-catching visuals and short segments over large amounts of text, so it is important to maintain brevity while developing your Digital Annual Report.
The future of Annual Report communications
Microsites are here to stay. Companies are seeing greater value in investing in microsites, especially as interest in printed documents is decreasing due to environmental considerations.
The future of Annual Report communications will be intuitive, immersive and interactive, focusing on user-experience over static content. Companies need to adapt to the digital world to avoid being left behind.