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Annual reports: It’s all about getting the mix right

What channels work best for your annual report?

How are you going to get it out to your target audience?

Do you really need to deliver it to mobile devices?

 

These days, many factors determine if your annual report will get where you want it to go. With so many publishing options, you’re going to have to choose wisely to maximize your chances of reaching your target audience. You’ll also need a smart cross-media mix consisting of various channels, a structured layout to present the content in compliance with legal requirements, and a creative concept that works for your purposes. An annual report not only presents your company’s business situation; it also portrays the people behind it. What sets your enterprise apart? And how do you showcase what makes it special? The chairman’s letter should serve as a guideline. And the business profile – that is, the section concerned with selling your organization’s best attributes – shouldn’t stray too far from it. Boost your company’s brand recognition by bringing out its individuality. If you put all these principles into action, you’ll be able to convey the contents of annual reports in a more focused, effective and powerful way.

What channels work best for your annual report?

Perhaps you want to use all media for your annual report. That will, of course, involve a great deal more effort than merely publishing a printed report and a PDF version, which suffices for most companies. But if you want to do more, linking the report to digital media is the way to go. For example, you could post it on the company’s website. That’s a good option because it lets you connect with so many more people. A website also presents a far more vivid showcase for pictures and videos. The business profile could also be published as an image-building brochure.

Let’s look at two case studies:

Siemens AG (created by hw. design; produced by CCS. Tirol)

The printed version comes in various languages, with further editions delivered across other channels. The online version features responsive design, downloadable PDFs, extensive collections of artworks, and interactive comparisons of key figures. In addition, the report is also published in the electronic Federal Gazette. It would normally require a tremendous amount of effort to compile versions for all these channels and variants.
The Siemens annual report contains anywhere from 450 to 500 pages and goes through 50 to 80 iterations before it’s finalized. These interim versions are works in progress created as authors and editors cycle through revisions and approvals from many in-house and outside contributors. Vast amounts of data have to be shuttled here and there and kept secure everywhere. vjoon K4 has simplified and accelerated all this. What once took eight weeks without vjoon K4 can now be done in a week and a half in a highly automated workflow. What’s more, this process not only results in a printed report; it delivers digital editions and various online versions simultaneously.   All in all, it now takes 30% less time and effort to produce a cross-media report. Click here to see a video showing the SIEMENS annual report in the making.

Siemens Video
Siemens Video
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AUDI AG (created & produced by BrandsOnSpeed)

The online version offers a wealth of data, cross-media apps, videos and individual PDFs. The transformation process is in full swing at Audi, as the annual report produced by vjoon client BrandsOnSpeed so vividly attests. The printed edition features a fresh look and feel born of a new design concept. Short teasers, rather than full-length stories, give the reader a quick, condensed run-down of key facts. The full stories are also posted online to make the annual report a complete package. The magazine section also features in a separately produced magazine.

These two examples have earned top marks for their cross-media delivery in comparative reviews and studies (“ihr-geschaeftsbericht.de”)

Does print still have a place and purpose?

The digital transformation may be sweeping nations, but a 2014 "WirDesign" study says print remains the leading medium. Companies are coming back to it for their corporate content. In the DACH region, spending in 2016 was up by around 10% from 2014, rising to €3.1 billion, according to a CMF study (Content Marketing Forum). Enterprises in all lines of business are rediscovering the joys of pamphlets that people can actually touch. Magazines hold weight. Quality publications leave lasting impressions that can’t be swiped aside like digital images.

Most readers still expect to see printed annual reports done up in an attractive, clearly structured package. They appreciate the hands-on benefits of printed editions: They’re easy to read and browse, and highlighting key passages feels like an intuitive thing to do.
A PDF on a website doesn’t make quite the same impression as an enticing envelope in a mailbox, and the report inside just feels more valuable. Printed matter has a heft and gravity to it. Hardcopy treats readers to a tactile experience. Reading fatigue sets in a lot earlier on screens; it takes some stamina to plough through an entire digital annual report.

The PDF: many possibilities with a modicum of effort

Even so, the PDF has its raison d’ être. Many financial and annual reports are published exclusively online as downloadable PDF files. Bookmarks, search functions and content-linked keywords make it easier for readers to find their way around long, complicated annual reports. Interactive PDFs with dynamic elements offer even more options. Annual reports are frequently offered as flip-book PDFs where the browser interface mimics the turning printed pages. This medium has the benefits of a fast-loading, 24/7 accessible digital document with a convenient keyword search. But the reader is only going to enjoy those benefits if the annual report is easy to navigate, responsive, and reader-friendly.

Does the annual report have to be available as an app?

Is the annual report in form of a mobile app merely a niche product? Like an online publication, the app displays content in a user-friendly way and factors in additional information. Unlike an online publication, it has the added advantage of enabling offline use. It also turns a collection of dry facts and figures into an interactive journey of discovery that allows users to zoom in on specific information in a way that feels more like play than work. And the numbers-heavy financial section can be optimized with user-friendly navigation.
A 2014 Kirchhoff-Consult study found that only around 50% of annual reports are optimized for mobile devices. However, creating an app is far more complicated. The effort that goes into this should not be underestimated.

What’s your budget going to be?

Of course, you want to keep an eye on costs when you’re considering formatting options and distribution channels. A sophisticated annual report can cost over €100,000 euros. Around 28% of that goes into printing, 23% for pictures and rights, 22% on prepress, 7% for logistics, 5% on paper, and at least 3% has to be budgeted for consulting services.
DAX companies spend an average of around €30,000 on their annual reports. Smaller companies’ budgets amount to some €15,000. And SDAX companies devote about €8,200 to their publications, according to a 2003 Heise online survey.

Costs
Costs
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Upshot

The success of an annual report hinges on its content and how well it is prepared and disseminated. Its look and feel have to be unmistakable and compelling enough to strengthen the brand. It will only gain acceptance, positive reviews and a widespread readership if the report is deemed useful. These days, even very complex annual reports such as the SIEMENS report can be produced with a reasonable amount of time and effort – given the right software and tools (such as vjoon K4).