Over the last few years, there has been a steady movement away from printing Annual Reports to producing them in digital format. There are several reasons for this: companies wanting to reduce the costs of printing and mailing paper Annual Reports; a desire to appear more innovative and modern; reducing the environmental impact of printing and the carbon footprint of distribution, as well as the waste of unread paper copies; wanting to engage in different ways with stakeholders.
Two key factors have accelerated this process: we are all more online savvy after the Covid-19 lockdowns and more comfortable reading complex documents online, and changes in company legislation not only allow electronic distribution of Annual Reports but encourage it by putting the onus on stakeholders to opt-in to receive a paper copy.
The trend toward the digitalisation of Annual Reports is unlikely to abate, although the legal requirement for companies to provide a paper version of their Annual Report upon request, means that printing copies will continue. But what do we mean by a digital Annual Report? Our research shows that it can mean different things to the people responsible for producing the company’s Annual Report. Here we look at the different options available to companies looking to digitise their Annual Reports.
What do we mean by digital Annual Reports?
There are two main options for producing digital Annual Reports: PDFs and HTML versions. A third version, E-books, sometimes called Flip-books, are PDFs designed to look like the pages of the Annual Report are being turned on a website. PDF and HTML versions are constructed differently and offer companies alternative ways of presenting their Annual Reports to their stakeholders online. Some companies provide either PDF or HTML versions with printed copies, others use both PDF and HTML versions with printed copies. It largely depends on how comfortable you are with digital functionality and what the company is trying to achieve, which is something we go into in more detail in a forthcoming blog. First, let’s look in more detail at the digital Annual Report options for companies.
PDF Annual Reports
PDFs very often replicate the printed report in look and design. PDFs can be static, in which case the stakeholder simply scrolls down the document to read it, or they can include an interactive element to help the reader navigate the Annual Report. The interactive element commonly includes clickable menus, such as the contents page, with embedded links that take the reader to specific areas of the Report. Links can be embedded throughout the Report to take the reader to other sections within the Report or to external websites. E-books, too, can be created to include interactive functionality or as static documents.
PDFs are available to stakeholders on the company’s website, often sitting within the Shareholder or Investment Relations sections. They can be downloaded to read on other mobile platforms or to be printed locally.
HTML Annual Reports
HTML Annual Reports are published on a microsite on the company website, usually in the Investor or Shareholder area, and the extent of the digital experience is usually greater than with PDF. The textual content of the Annual Report can be enhanced by including animated infographics, for instance charts that can be clicked or hovered over to reveal more information, and videos including ‘talking head’ presentations from the company’s management team.
Proponents of HTML Annual Reports believe they enhance engagement with the company’s stakeholders. They can be mobile-friendly and integrate with social media platforms and digital campaigns. Key financial information can be made available to extract as .csv files for repurposing as, for example, bar or pie charts.
The key differences between PDF and HTML formats are the extent of digital functionality available within each format and the ways in which they are created. PDFs usually follow the process companies use for creating print-ready artwork for the paper version of the Annual Report. HTML starts from a different platform and is created using digital technology. The design and layout of an HTML Report doesn’t have to follow the design of the printed report. They often do, but they can be created to look like an integral part of the website.
Mixing it up: permutations and hybrid use
Those responsible within the company for producing and distributing the Annual Report will lean toward one or other of PDF or HTML, depending on budget, available technology and company objectives. In practice, company’s often take a hybrid approach, using both PDF and HTML to publish their Annual Reports on the company website, in conjunction with sending printed copies to stakeholders that request them. It helps to be clear about the permutations available when considering what options best serve your purposes.
The key decision regarding PDFs is the extent, if any, of digital functionality to include. A static PDF, with no interactive functionality, can be read online or downloaded from the company’s website and provided instead of, or as well as, a printed Annual Report. Introducing an interactive element can enhance the reader’s experience by adapting it for the screen. By including links to different sections of the Annual Report, links on section landing pages, and cross links to the company’s website, it makes it easier to navigate and to take the reader to key information.
Similarly with the HTML version decisions are required as to how interactive you want the Annual Report to be and how it should look on the company website. The Annual Report microsite on the company’s website can include highlights and summaries of key parts of the Report in digital format with animated and static graphics and explainer videos. In practice, many companies use this functionality and also have tabs that link directly to a static, downloadable PDF version of the Report. This can be the full version of the Report or ‘read-more’ tabs can link directly to specific parts of the Report that can be downloaded in sections as PDFs. Some companies create their Annual Reports as HTML pages, using the microsite to offer a fully digital, interactive version, often without the option to download a PDF version.
The term digital Annual Report means different things to different people. We hope our blog has clarified what these differences are, and the options and permutations available to you when producing and distributing your Annual Report in digital format. An important factor in deciding which format to use, and in which combinations, is what you are aiming to achieve. Our forthcoming blog helps to clarify some of the factors you should consider.
Perivan has a tremendous amount of experience in designing, producing and distributing Annual Reports in all formats. If you would like some advice or to have a no-obligation chat about how we can help, please visit our website to book a call or call us on 020 7562 2200.