Annual Report conceptualization.

An online point of view.

There’s been a clear trend evolving over the last years: annual reports are no longer published as printed versions only. Our 2009 annual report survey finds that nearly half the companies listed in major European indices additionally provide a full-fledged HTML-version. This serves the needs of an ever growing share of their target group, which relies on the web to gather investor-relevant information.

Print and online – both channels got their respective strengths and weaknesses. They apply to different kinds of users needs and provide specific possibilities and restraints. They could and should complement each other.

Huge amounts of energy, time and money are invested in drawing up the report’s concept and design every year. Theme, message and copy have to be decided upon. For historical reasons, companies and their print agencies are the only ones involved at this initial stage of the process. Print takes the lead while online agencies enter the process at a time, when most of the crucial conceptual decisions have already been taken. Online agencies then face the challenge of smoothly transforming the design and story agreed upon into an online version.

As the annual report is a critical branding tool, it’s essential to the consistency of a company’s communication strategy that the two versions – print and online – are able to get across both: message and image in a similar way. A multidimensional strategy as a foundation for concept development is therefore key to success. In the early stage of conceptualization careful attention should be given to the question, whether the concept’s elements are able to suit the needs of both channels. And this relates to literally every single aspect: design, story, copy, graphics, and tables.

If these elements are exclusively drawn up with regard to the print versions possibilities and restraints, life’s getting pretty hard for us online agencies. One has to expect and accept certain cutbacks while adapting the concept for the online version, if it is too narrowly aligned to the print version’s needs.

To be plain: you can either come up with a print concept that makes a seamless transformation into an HTML version difficult to near impossible. Or you can draw it up in a way that makes a smooth transformation very simple. You should of course aim at the latter one.

This is the first in a series of blog posts throwing some light on the difficulties that arise from an overly print-focussed concept. In the weeks ahead, we’ll take a look at the particular elements of an annual report and present best- and worst-practice examples from an online point of view.

We’ll then return to the broader picture. Every design idea obviously has to prove itself valuable for two channels – online and print. How can we avoid companies and print agencies from focussing too narrowly on the print version while drawing up the annual report’s concept? One way would of cause be to get online agencies involved on an equal footing in the early stage of conceptualizing. Not surprisingly, we’re going to advocate exactly that!

The end of all this is to secure that the annual report’s narrative as well as it’s visual story come to their full effect in both the printed and the online version and therefore effectively support the companies overall communication strategy.

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