Annual Reports in 2013 – The Trends say it’s not Print vs. Online, but Both

In my previous post on the Current Trends in Investor Communications, I highlighted some of the data from the January 2013 data on annual reports from the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI). What we are finding is that many of the trends we saw two years ago, such as the shift away from the traditional report to the summary and 10-K wrap, are still continuing, and the shift towards digital is increasing.

According to the survey, seven percent of companies use only a printed format, five percent use only an online format, and the rest use a combination of print and online. While the printed annual report is diminishing in size, the important information about leadership and strategy still needs to be communicated, and a good place for that is online. The online version of a report facilitates the absorption of this content by investors and other relevant audiences, such as job candidates. In addition, via online format you can add interactive tools and videos that make for a good user experience and positive impression of the information.

Trends in online reports

Let’s take a look at some numbers

  • Electronic/Online annual report budgets increased 30% over 2010.
  • Online tracking of reports has increased 60% between 2008 & 2012. 80% of those that track do so to improve the following year’s budget.
  • Of those producing a CSR or sustainability report, 18% chose an online format

A few favorite online report examples

When an annual report is printed and sent, that’s pretty much the end of its content life, but an online version can be repurposed in a multitude of ways; used on other pages on a site, emails, blog posts, videos, etc. Think about how your annual report content is relevant to other audiences. With an online version, teams throughout a company can use and share content with relative ease. If you’re looking to share financials, a Chairman’s statement or any other part of the report utilizing the web can help ease that process and deliver that data in a matter of seconds.

Here are a few examples of robust online reports that are well-designed, have easy-to-find relevant information and a wealth of search engine friendly content.


Unilever provides all their data online with an easy to use navigation down the left side of the page. Should you want to dig deeper into their financials, you can simply download a PDF or print it. More importantly, there is easy access to the business strategy, their sustainability plan and leadership perspectives to provide context to the numbers.


Unilever Annual Report Site


Shell is another great example of online annual reporting. One great tool I love is the Download Manager. It allows you to pick and choose sections of the report to download in PDF form. Select from any section in the report, and the download manager will merge all the PDFs into one file for you.

The Chart Generator by Shell is another way in which a company is using technology to share information. You can choose from multiple sources of information going back to 2008. And the Fast Facts section is also a plus. It’s a quick and easy way to get key information across.

Shell Annual Report



It’s not just annual reports; this example of an online sustainability report is worth noting, too. In addition to clearly outlining Sysco’s sustainability strategy on the site, there is also a companion app for tablets to keep the information at hand. This distribution approach is two-fold – not only is the online version easy to update for subsequent years (notice the URL is “evergreen” without a year in the title), but it also makes it easy to use this content in customer meetings via a tablet-carrying sales force.


These are great examples of online reports that help ensure the important messages from the company are seen. We’ve noted before that this is often the most visible message direct from the CEO and the most succinct place to review the company’s strategy and leadership. And while the trends are showing that investor communications are shifting towards more digital, not all online reports are created equal. It’s time to start evaluating how you can make the most of your online report to make your message cut through the clutter and use your budget effectively.

About Bethany Andell Haley

Bethany Andell Haley

I am the President and a brand strategist at Savage Brands. I work with clients to develop their corporate purpose and brand approach, including messaging and communications plans.

View all posts by Bethany Andell Haley →

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