The printed annual report: obsolete or not?

by By Mikael Wegmüller and other contributors
Download as PDF A discussion launched by Mikael Wegmüller in the Corporate Communication group on www.linked.in.com

  1. Mikael Wegmüller
    Director, Marketing and Communications at Konecranes Plc

    The printed Annual Report - obsolete or not?
    What is the trend? Will companies in the near future only present the annual report electronically to save costs and minimize the ecological footprint?

  2. Sheri Beam
    Marketing, media relations at NASA-LaRC-RTI and Government Relations Consultant

    That's just what we are doing for our group!

  3. Julio Pastor
    Senior Communication and International PR Consultant

    I'm absolutely sure. And not only for an ecological issue. In the 21st century, it's a non sense anachronism to publish an anual report printed. Besides, there are practical reasons for it. the print can' t include all the possibilites provided by the technological tools.
    I work for a Spanish company devoted to this kind of issues (http://www.visualthinking.es). We also have our pages in english. If you want, check it them and give me your opinion.
    Thanks in advance, J

  4. Suzanne Hochheimer
    Head of international Marketing and Communications

    Our shareholders are mostly of an older generation and I know that some do not even have internet access. I will have to continue printing for the next few years but would love to change this.

  5. Sanaj Natarajan
    Sr. Marketing Communications Executive

    I agree with Suzanne, most of our shareholders are of older generation and in India, access is still a problem. Although we have reduced on the number of pages and gloss.

  6. Roy Carter
    Senior Account Manager at Emperor Design

    I'm not so sure. I think there will always be a place for printed publications - although it depends on your reasons for producing the report. If you are purely producing it for legal reasons, and most of it is just numbers then yes, I think that kind of traditional printed report is dying out. If however, you treat the annual report as what it can be - your once a year chance to communicate properly with stakeholders - then it can be a fantastic piece of marketing communication.
    Properly produced 'summary' reports - with far more of the information online - can be really powerful.
    Since the arrival of the internet, people have been predicting the death of printed publications.But, as time has shown, nothing can beat the impact of print. (I'll grant you online can achieve a lot too).

  7. Lesley Walker
    Communications Manager at SHV Holdings N.V.

    We print a limited number of annual reports for the shareholder, and have an on-line version for the general public/interested parties. I agree with Roy that there will always be a place for printed publications, but not necessarily the full annual report (if not legally required). The summary+online full version is were I want to be at in a couple of years. Does anyone have other tried and tested combination suggestions?

  8. Nicole Harbour
    Sales & Marketing Manager at Disc, Inc.

    A number of our clients are distributing their annual reports on CD, enclosed in a branded cardboard sleeve. It eliminates the need for large volume paper printing while still providing shareholders with hard copies.

  9. Mikael Wegmüller
    Director, Marketing and Communications at Konecranes Plc

    Thank you all for commentting!
    Based on above there is still a need for a printed one, but maybe in a shorter summary form.

  10. Michael Gury
    Global Communications, Marketing, PR, Branding Expert

    My only thought is, on top of these good comments, is that -- in a public company -- an annual report has two parts: the financials and the marketing. Once you separate the two, you can get a little creative. They needn't be bound together as has been the tradition. And that gives a little more longevity to the marketing piece. The financial statement can be a very simple black and white piece printed on lightweight paper, and you will fulfill all SEC regulations by sending it out to investors. The marketing piece can be bundled with it, or not, and used for real marketing as opposed to financial disclosure. You can plop both onto CD's and the website. In SEC situations, print is hard to kill.

  11. Nikki Means
    Independent Blogger at Tea Escapade

    In an effort not to duplicate comments above, there will be a need for printed copies for awhile. While I have seen most organizations publish Annual Reports on their websites, believe it or not, there are shareholders that do not own computers and shareholders that are not Internet savvy even if they do own computers. As an eldercare blogger and caregiver, I was quite surprised by the number of organizations responsible for disseminating information to the elderly who did not take into account that their target audience were not computer or Internet savvy when they began publishing data on the Internet only.

  12. Lesley Walker
    Communications Manager at SHV Holdings N.V.

    So, as with everything we do, the medium we choose to use has to fit our target audience/audiences.

  13. Rahul Deep
    Corporate Communications at Samvardhana Motherson Group

    investor's here are mostly old age people & considering their inability to naviagte through the pages we will continue to print the annual report ..although wil gradually reduce the nos.

  14. Khantil Shah
    Manager PR at Linopinion - A Lowe Lintas PR division

    Internet users in India are 40-50 crores spread across all user group... First of all looking at the Indian Internet users group and profile.. the people using internet for professional / work / knowledge acquisition and other activities are only very less.. its not due to age bar but its due to unawareness about the Internet medium though its being used by all yet not accepted by all... Many of the companies publish annual reports online and is easily downloadable from there respective sites.. but hard copies are still more preferred... they are being sent to the shareholders at there respective places every year as a regular practice by some... its a one in a year cost incurred but more fruitful way to reach out to customers / shareholders / stakeholders marking that Company has sent us something... This practice will go on for sometime or say some more years... or might not stop also... publishing online reports can work as a one alternative option...

  15. Sherrie Centrella
    Marketing Communications Manager at SunGard Availability Services

    We'll begin going "almost" fully electronic this year. Must continue to print a small amount for the minority that request it.

  16. Steve Hartman
    Creative Director & President of Creativille Inc.

    With the rise of digital printing and e-books, there are many options available to integrate the annual report between the web, pdf and print. One thing to remember is how it carries the brand to the investors, media, analysts, employees (present and future). Please, include your designer in this discussion to help plan the most effective mix of media, and how to carry the brand through each consistently and effectively.

  17. Diana Railton
    Corporate communicator, specialising in web content strategy, web writing and training

    When preparing an annual report, it's important to decide whether it's primarily for print or onscreen readers. Many annual reports written originally for print are impenetrable onscreen.
    If you start with an electronic audience in mind, the print product will benefit - but not usually vice versa.

  18. Sheri Beam
    Marketing, media relations at NASA-LaRC-RTI and Government Relations Consultant

    One of the early decisions we make when developing our products is whether they are for print, just electronic, or both, and have that discussion with the people who are creating the files. That way, we can have high-resolution files if they're to be printed.

  19. Peter J. Malia
    Principal at The Connecticut Press

    As someone who has overseen the creation of annual reports, I have seen a number of solutions -- from simple PDF versions of the printed piece posted on-line as a reference -- to print- and on-line versions of the annual being written and designed simultaneously, to a companion marketing and branding "wrap" that accompanies the 10k. The point is-what are your objectives? Who is your target audience? And are your marketing and branding dollars better spent in some other way? It's high time to begin thinking more creatively as we move into the e-publication arena, complete with interactive charts and graphs, video, flash -- and an intelligent approach to making these documents more compelling.

  20. Roger Melo
    Marketing and Communication Executive

    I believe that label technology is always a mistake. To say that it will end up with jobs or eliminate the use of paper is to believe in Santa Claus.
    We must use technology and its progress as best as possible in order to be more efficient and effective. Thus, the information at an annual report is extremely important to our stakeholders and is a key to the company's corporate positioning. We must think strategically in their creation and use technology in our favor. So, I am in favor of having a complete report with rich content on the Internet, a CD version with links to the Internet, using a smaller printed version and also a flyer urging people to visit our site.

  21. Diana Railton
    Corporate communicator, specialising in web content strategy, web writing and training

    Agree with Peter that annual reports are a great opportunity to think more creatively on the web and to make them 100 x more compelling. And with Roger on making best use of technology.
    Just as it's a serious mistake to 'dump' print documents on the web, it's crucial not to do the same with other media such as video and audio. If you respect the web as a communication channel in its own right, it's a question of choosing and using the best media in the best possible way for different parts of the report.
    Another unique feature of the web is linking and providing self-service menus of choice / detail - huge scope!

  22. Anshuman Chakravarty
    Head of Corporate Communication India, for Asia & Australia region at Kaefer

    Apart from legal obligations in some countries to have the annual report in printed form, I believe the shareholder should be given an option to choose the form in which she/he desires. This will ensure effectiveness as well as reduce wastage.

  23. Hedy Baker
    Experienced Senior Communications Professional

    Can you do something like print-on-demand using a fulfillment house that just prints and mails upon request...

  24. Peter J. Malia
    Principal at The Connecticut Press

    Yes, POD would work for what you suggest, but it would require some "outside-the-box thinking and design. Still, it's well worth exploring.

  25. Mikael Wegmüller
    Director, Marketing and Communications at Konecranes Plc

    Great feedback, thanks.
    Hedy, I like your idea on POD. Need to have a closer look.

  26. Steve Hartman
    Creative Director & President of Creativille Inc.

    The Print on Demand option is a great option. Things to consider would be where it locks you into only full color or one color printing; paper selection; bindery options and size (dimensions). Print quality is fairly high, but never as nice as offset or a high-quality web printing. Again, consult your designer.

  27. Sheri Beam
    Marketing, media relations at NASA-LaRC-RTI and Government Relations Consultant

    We have used POD very successfully and will continue to do so, as long as we continue to offer print in addition to electronic copies. I still advocate less paper.

  28. Peter J. Malia
    Principal at The Connecticut Press

    With POD there is a point of diminishing returns as far as cost and quality. And unless you plan the annual to serve multiple purposes (marketing, internal, HR), you may wish to rethink the medium entirely in providing the investment community with the financial it wants. Most investors are institutional and could care less about the pretty reports. Those shareho;lders who do care may be served differently -- with a DVD, a free web conference, or simply the knowledge that the company saved a bundle in not printing an annual report.

  29. Jonathan Russell
    Expert in Corporate Communication, Reputation and Stakeholder Engagement

    Not yet. Redundancy must be defined by the user/customer (see vinyl records, home created meals,cinema, etc) and not pushed too hard by the product owner without risking negative consequences that will drain resource to manage in terms of reputational impact. What would be truly brilliant would be for an "app" style solution to accessing and disseminating corporate information which is fully flexible in terms of both push and pull delivery. There is still a big space out there for a real, creative solution to this challenge which also bears in mind that there will continue to be a legitimate demand for explicit, transparent and unprocessed raw data.

  30. Anshuman Chakravarty
    Head of Corporate Communication India, for Asia & Australia region at Kaefer

    Jonathan is very correct, we should not be baised by our own logic but the option should be given to the users to decide. We are in a tranformative stage with various technologies and medium's at crossroads and every user has her/ his liking.
    For the following year's annual report which is going to be a print version in many companies, they can add a page on which the shareholder can select the type and medium in which one wants his copy of the report and they can send their replies back to the company. In subsequent year the deliveries can be planned according to the specified requirement.
    In India many companies print two types of annual report; the "mass copy", which is a single colour version without the 'storyboard' and is for mass circulation and the "class/ delux" copy which is circulated to the bankers etc.; this is another way of cutting down cost and wastage.

  31. Thomas Rosenmayr
    Founder & CEO at Nexxar

    I think printed reports will never get obsolete because some people always prefer to hold them in their hands. But certainly the main focus on designing the message for a printed book will change. In fact is changing already.
    We are focusing in our business only on online corporate reporting. What we see just now is that companies start to accept that online takes the lead. In former times we got finished printed design and had to make them work for an online world. Now we get involved already in the conceptual phase and some clients even design their reports primarily for the web!
    As Diana already said: online communication is different from print. Print is linear like a film, online has no hierarchy. Linking makes context much easier and provides a absolute flat navigation.
    We will see a lot more changes in the world of corporate reporting in the future! But first the mindset of the people involved in the production process has to change. Online offers some additional communication value, not just to reduce your carbon footprint...

  32. Anshuman Chakravarty
    Head of Corporate Communication India, for Asia & Australia region at Kaefer

    I have just copied the thoughts shared by members in this discussion which I found extremely relevant and tried to do a summary, I may be baised but ...."We should not be baised by our own logic but the option should be given to the users to decide.(but how to know what users want?) / Redundancy must be defined by the user,customer ./ What we see just now is that companies start to accept that online takes the lead.Online offers some additional communication value, not just to reduce your carbon footprint/printed reports will never get obsolet because some people always prefer to hold them in their hands./ The Print on Demand option is a great option. / With the rise of digital printing and e-books, there are many options available to integrate the annual report between the web, pdf and print and yes in CD's and yes in some with interactive charts and graphs, video, and flash ./Things to consider would be where it locks you into only full color or one color printing; paper selection; bindery options and size (dimensions)./ Web design print quality is fairly high, but never as nice as offset or a high-quality web printing./..MY TAKE... Designer's/software's / Programmers/ CFO's and INITIATOR's hold the clue and YES there are POD houses but depends on qty ordered/ destination charges???

  33. Sheri Beam
    Marketing, media relations at NASA-LaRC-RTI and Government Relations Consultant

    One missing element--the target audience. If you don't identify that, you can produce the wrong format.

  34. Anshuman Chakravarty
    Head of Corporate Communication India, for Asia & Australia region at Kaefer

    By users I meant target audience

  35. Cameron McIntyre
    Cameron Photography

    As a corporate photographer annual reports mean business, whether printed or online. Being only involved in the creative elements of the report I focus my work on telling the company story, highlighting the who, what and where.
    As far as the pure visual content of such publications is concerned I think we respond to images and graphics in a more comprehensive tangible and tactile way when reading printed material. I also think the printed publications create a sense of permanency, much like brick and

  36. Pia Proal
    Vice President Real Cool TV

    We're seeing an increase in the use of video as part of a company's annual report. As Diana said, you have to look at your overall communication strategy and your audience to determine the best mix of media.

  37. Jonathan Russell
    Expert in Corporate Communication, Reputation and Stakeholder Engagement

    Perhaps we need to define more specifically the objective of that we define our Annual Report? It is possibly a truism that most readers with a financial analytical interest in the report owners will focus very heavily on the numbers and ratios - the meat. The rest, generally will be the bread and dressing. That is not to devalue that, but is dangerously close to "spin". Perhaps we should split the information more clearly? I like the multi-media approach to telling the story, but at the end of the day you need to show me the money.

  38. Mike Guillaume
    Director, e.com-ReportWatch

    The question is almost the same as the one asked about newspapers and traditional media with regard to the Internet. And, though the latter is increasingly used, the answer is not 100% certain.
    Having flicked through hundreds of thousands of pages of printed annuals over the years, and now having to watch them as screen "pages" (an inappropriate word for most) or downloads, we at e.com-ReportWatch are struck by a number of facts:
    First and foremost, I would like to repeat that an online version should include the same mandatory content as a printed one. Like others have pointed, the challenge is to organize and communicate it a different, and possibly, better way. And not only, like some say, by using videos ("The CEO is talking to you") or by playing with Hollywood-style images in the narrative and keeping financials boring as usual!
    Many -I would even write a large majority of- reports have not yet translated their strengths or language into online versions. To take but a few items: key figures are often a copy-and-paste of a sheet of paper; "highlights" are simply not designed for on-screen... highlighting; KPIs are out of reach; layout is either built for on-screen reading or on-sheet printing only; interactive charting options often are stock-only (or mostly); the read appeal lacks... appeal; and, as a kind of paradox, the number of pages is... increasing compared to more compact printed versions. By the way, screen-watching (on TV or PC) should not be mixed up with fact-and-figure analysis. A sheet of paper, a good old pen and a calculator are still needed, at least for serious analysts (I know, most of them are not, but give a chance to the others!).
    In other words, and in spite of significant efforts made these last 3-5 years by some companies and their web/online consultants and advisers, putting the quality of online reports up to the best practice we've seen in print is still a long way off.

  39. Will Stone
    Head of Communications UK & Ireland at UPM

    Printed communications are still essential in order to engage with the full stakeholder mix. In addition to providing a 'helicopter view' of an organisation and its performance, ARs allow organisations to highlight strategic targets, direction and ambitions as well as solid brand communication.
    Online is a complementary tool which provides real time information and interactive communications. For example, video interviews with business leaders within the organisation, downloads of specific data and resources.
    True today's annual report doesn't need to be a 'War & Peace' 1000 page document but it does need to be there in print.


Discussion held on LinkedIn in December 2009-January 2010.
Viewpoints reproduced by kind permission of Mikael Wegmüller.

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