Boom – Bust – Boom – Bust.

Cyclical waves of HTML Reporting in the UK

HTML Reporting in the UK has hit rock bottom. Not in terms of noise and interest in digital reporting, but in terms of quality and usability. What most FTSE-100 companies offer this year as their Online Annual Report simply is not worth the effort to click on. It’s either not fitting on screen (PDF) thus causing my eyes to hop like rubber balls, impossible to navigate (flipbook) or simply not more than a content appetiser for interested readers.

But, how do we determine that we already reached the bottom? There are still some good examples of engaging digital reports. Will those have to disappear too? Hopefully not. Recent news in the UK corporate reporting space sounds encouraging: The advent of one-page-scrolling “revolution”. How can less of everything be revolutionary? You might say I’m a contrarian, but calling a dead-end in web communications an engaging starting point, is a good sign for me.

Management by following

Repetitive waves of rise and fall, boom and bust seem natural for a nation surrounded by the sea. In fact we see a very different development in HTML Reporting in Continental Europe. While UK companies had been leaders in digital reporting from 2008 to 2012, companies in the Netherlands, Switzerland or Germany stayed on the side line evaluating their options. Based on their individual goals and what they want to achieve, European companies adopted to HTML reporting – less enthusiastic but more steady. This shift was holistically connected to a cut in print runs for the hard cover versions, the free resources were canalised into digital. And what seems most important to me: the whole development was accompanied by statistical user analysis and perception studies. What are users interested in, how did they reach the report, what device are they using. Simple questions that provide valuable insights into your readership and thus help to constantly develop your digital offer. Setting up and measuring goals is key to a successful reporting strategy, no matter what channel you are using!

This more self-sustaining approach lead to a different development for digital reporting in Europe, where corporate reporting agencies do not have the power to define what the next “revolution” is. And trends do not unfold because they fit very well to the capabilities of their “discoverer”. Today digital already is the primary channel for state-of-the-art corporate communication, but the content of Annual Reports are still very much print focused. Instead of discussing how to best transform this content from a print layout into an engaging digital experience we need to change the content itself. Symptomatic for this misled approach seems to me the discussion to optimise the PDF for screen reading. Of course I appreciate any step to improve the digital experience, but this very much sounds like plugging wings on cars which should then serve as planes. Shaping content for a digital environment needs an independent concept to start with.

In Europe we are entering a different kind of discussion. Against the background of dropping demand for hard cover versions we see that companies like Commerzbank, Ferrovial or Migros stopped printing their Annual Reports. Others like Philips, SAP or Geberit take their digital report as starting point to then generate a printable version as secondary product. To find the right solution for your corporate reporting you need to put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Get connected to your stakeholders and find out what fits best. Innovation never happens by following others.

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