Annual report: To quick-read or deep-dive

This year we have continued to evolve our ‘quick-read’ online annual reports to deliver content to both generalist audiences, such as employees and media, and specialist stakeholders, such as investors and analysts. Not only do the two audiences have differing content requirements but the way they find and consume information is different too.

The challenge is to deliver a digital solution that tells the story and provides the detail at the same time.

Much like an at-a-glance spread in a traditional printed annual report, online users want to understand the report content quickly, skim read the main highlights and messages of the year and be signposted to further content, both online and to download if required. ​

Before including more online reporting content or enhancing the online experience for specialist and generalist audiences we consider whether the content would be easier to understand, consume or engage with online and whether it matches our priority audience needs. The outcome will either mean more digital content or content delivered as a download. This exercise is key to adding value for our clients' audiences.

Two examples of this exercise in practice were Naspers and Prosus. Given recent structural changes for both, the digital reports focused on providing a clear explanation of the business model. The effectiveness of this approach was proved by the resulting analytics, with users spending a significant amount of time on the page and reading through the content to the end.

In keeping with using digital to enhance audience understanding, this year, Prosus and Naspers also expanded the Annual Report microsite to host their virtual AGM with corresponding documents, registration and voting.

Further evidence of enhancing digital content was with our long-standing client Pennon Group. The sale of its waste management business in March heralded a new era for Pennon, focusing on the UK water industry. Explaining the shape of the new group and future strategy became a priority in print and online, while continuing to reinforce the ESG framework that underpins the business.

Finally, following an IPO two years ago, SIG resolved from the outset to make its reporting digitally-led. It has developed a landing page that gives a clear snapshot of the company and its performance, and highlights a series of Opportunity Stories underpinning the theme for the year. More detailed content relating to strategy, business model and other disclosures is clearly signposted.

All the examples above demonstrate our belief in putting audiences first, and catering to their specialist or generalist digital needs. Doing what works online and delivering against what audiences really want. To quick-read or deep-dive and go about their business.

Louisa Lally is a Client Services Director at MerchantCantos.

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