5 Reasons to Publish a Digital Annual Report — Even If You’re Not Required to Publish One

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has required publicly owned businesses to produce annual reports for nearly a century. A lot of companies do the bare minimum and publish a glorified financial statement, but others see annual reports for what they really are — a robust marketing tool.

The content, length, style, format, and design of annual reports run the gamut. Traditionally, they’re a few dozen pages long, printed and mailed to specific shareholders and investors. The problem with print, though, is the missed opportunity to present company data and company stories in a dynamic and energetic manner. The solution just might be a digital annual report.

Think Outside the PDF

If your company has to create an annual report one way or another, why not make it interesting? Reach more than just shareholders and keep them reading until the end by telling a story that has more sensory texture — that invites interaction and reveals deeper insights. Even private companies without shareholders, like Cobalt, can harness the power of digital annual reports to show off their success and abilities in a creative way. If executed effectively, they can help any business do what it needs to do most — connect with and motivate an audience.

You may be thinking, “but I’ve seen annual reports online before and they seem no different than printed reports.” That’s because there probably was no difference — many online reports are simply PDFs of their print cousins. A digital annual report is interactive and stimulating. Think animated graphics, videos, sounds, hyperlinks — your design opportunities pretty much become endless online. Take this opportunity to showcase your best work from the last year in a way that wouldn’t be as impactful or even possible in a print, such as a TV commercial that really caught on or recordings of client testimonials that loved working with you. Brag a little bit.

Digital annual reports, like this one from The Home Depot, can bring data and information to life in ways that print annual reports can’t.

We created our first-ever annual report for 2016, and we’re convinced digital is a viable option for both public and private companies. If you’re looking to leverage the communications potential of a digital annual report, consider these five reasons that convinced us to go for it:

  1. Give clients a window into your company culture. Cobalt created an annual report for the first time this year because we realized that, even though we’re not legally obligated to, showing our clients what “a year in the life of Cobalt” looks like could deepen our relationships with them. We are not stuffy robots on the other side of a computer screen — we are real-life creatives who genuinely care about our clients and love what we do. The digital annual report reveals who we are.
  2. Showcase your company’s unique personality or point of view. Your digital annual report is the perfect opportunity to show off your company’s signature style, pull out tricks you rarely have the chance to use, create some kickass graphics and tell stories with greater dimension. And while that dimension can come from audio, video and animation, written content is still king, so use this as a chance to show off your writing chops, too.
  3. Reach a larger audience. Since print annual reports are typically mailed to a specific list of shareholders and investors, they limit your reach. Digital reports, though, are just a search away from any internet user. By going digital, you open up your annual report to the world, and you never know who could stumble across it, love it, and, in turn, begin a relationship with your company.
  4. Access more analytics. Print annual reports collect dust on waiting room coffee tables, and you probably won’t get feedback on which pages work and which flop. With an online report, you can use analytics to track which pages get the most hits, how most people get access to your report, and take notes for next year’s annual report planning.
  5. Save money. Why not cut printing and postage costs by moving to digital, and reinvest some of that haul into your design budget? Impressing your audience with high-quality graphics could bring home even more bacon.

Long Live the Annual Report

None of this is to imply that the print annual report should be killed and buried with a stake through its heart. But it is important to consider all of the options available and what benefits and opportunities those options bring. The digital annual report, given the rapid evolution of online technologies and media delivery mechanisms, is a viable — and valuable — tool for any company that wants (or needs) to publish information for investors or interested readers.

Don’t just take our word for it. Check out Cobalt’s digital annual report (desktop and mobile) and see what 2016 looked like for us.

Cobalt-60 is the name of our blog, an online digest dedicated to the art and science of communications. (It’s also an isotope of the element cobalt.)

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