Annual reports: not extinct yet

Annual reports are evolving – but not extinct – as a primary tool for telling a company’s story, according to a survey released this week by the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI). Of the 182 companies responding, 91% produce annual reports, although the clear trend compared to past years is toward spending less on printed copies and more for online versions.

My comments on a few top-line results from those who do annuals:

… The 10-K wrap is most popular (53%), followed by traditional (35%) and summary (12%) reports. When you ask professional investors about the annual, they always claim to head straight for the MD&A and other meaty sections of the 10-K. The wrap adds the personal touch of a CEO letter or narrative, and perhaps visual elements, to drive home the key messages.

… Print budgets for annual reports are coming down. The number of copies is dropping as companies use the Notice and Access process to reduce the number of mailed books (35% now print less than 10,000). The shift toward 10-K wraps and summary reports also is cutting print costs.

… Online annual report budgets are rising, though some designers include digital versions in the print bid. Just posting a plain PDF to the website isn’t keeping up with the way people like to read online. If you haven’t already done so, you should look into offering user-friendly features like an interactive  HTML-based report, hyperlinks, an online index or financial tables downloadable into spreadsheets.

… On average, companies start the annual report process 3-1/2 months before year end. So if you’re on a calendar year, you should be more than a month into planning, creating messages and developing designs.

NIRI’s survey is a good resource for benchmarking your annual report practices, including a reality check on budgets. If you’re a NIRI member, access the “Executive Alert” from the NIRI home page or the full survey report here. If you’re not a NIRI member, sign up now – or you can buy the “Executive Alert” here.


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