Brunswick Review Issue 2

On/Off Annual Reporting

Many companies in the United Kingdom and North America rushed to embrace online annual reports in 2008 for the first time.

But new research by Merchant suggests that the trend has slowed in recession-hit 2009.

New legislation in major western markets, enabling companies to switch to online annual reporting provided they offer a print alternative, initially underpinned growing enthusiasm for the electronic medium. But publicly-listed businesses in the currently depressed economic environment now appear to be questioning the value of a fully-fledged online annual report unless they have a wide shareholder base and a large number of retail investors. They are more positive if they find they can abandon print altogether, but in most cases we find a reluctance to do so: producing high quality print and full online versions generally leads to much higher costs. 

Online reporting, however, will not go away. The challenge companies must therefore address is how to deliver annual report content – video and multimedia – that is truly adapted to the strength of the online medium. 

Merchant’s latest research highlights several online reports that are leading the way. Among UK banks Barclays (www.barclays.com) has made a serious attempt to up its online game – not least with its associated video content – while British American Tobacco (www.bat.com) has sought to make its online content more accessible by providing a “quick read” section and good internal links.

In continental Europe, German companies are leading the way with BMW (www.bmw.com), Deutsche Bank (www.db.com) and Deutsche Post (www.deutschepost.de) deserving special mention this year. The last two have made a real effort to introduce interactivity. Similarly, France’s L’Oréal (www.loreal.com) has produced a high quality “hybrid” report with an interactive highlights section and the remainder in PDF. Royal Ahold’s (www.ahold.com) online report will please those who like a mix of video, charting and imaginative navigation.

Richard Carpenter is Managing Partner of Merchant, the creative communications consultancy that specializes in corporate reporting. He was a founding member of the Report Leadership Group with PricewaterhouseCoopers and also sat on the ICSA working group on electronic communications.