A COMPANY’S annual report plays a pivotal role in shaping stakeholders’ perceptions and, increasingly, its brand image.

It has evolved into more than just a tool for financial communication. It can — and often does — take on other roles like branding and marketing on the side.

There are several key aspects to crafting an effective annual report:

Translation

Producing its annual report in English makes the report accessible to a global audience, especially in this digital era when stakeholders may be widely dispersed around the globe.

On the other hand, corporations realise the need to speak to various groups of audience differently.

In both scenarios, the translation or localisation of annual reports is a necessity. Translated versions allow audiences from different geographical locations to gain access to a company’s corporate information more readily — an important move to expand its shareholder base.

Branding tool

No longer just a document for financial reporting, the annual report is now seen by an increasing number of companies as a marketing and branding tool, through which companies may influence stakeholders’ perceptions of their image, products and services.

An annual report projects a company’s corporate image not only through what it says but how it looks. The manipulation of design elements and reiteration of corporate messages have one objective: to make the report’s readers feel a certain way about the company. It can boost or undermine a company’s carefully built reputation.

Environment concerns

Many major corporations worldwide have made their contributions to the environment an integral part of their corporate social responsibility reviews.

There is a trend of producing digital annual reports and even completely doing away with hard copies, thereby eliminating paper consumption and printing costs. A company may produce only a web-version annual report, create a PDF version for downloading, or produce other softcopy forms for distribution. Some companies are distributing their reports in USB drives or CD-ROMs.

Where print copies are still demanded by the stakeholders, making a deliberate choice to use recycled paper has become a corporate policy at many corporations.

This enables them to print the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo, which indicates their corporate social responsibility initiative and enhances their corporate image.

Viral outreach

With an increasing number of stakeholders going online, producing an online version of the annual report has become a necessity.

The online report not only supplements the print version, but it also enables companies to reach out to a much wider demographic of stakeholders, who can share what they see with their circle of contacts across the world.

Such a report should be crafted keeping in mind online reading habits.

A well-constructed microsite not only performs its most essential function of financial reporting, but also upholds the integrity of the user experience.

Use IT

Besides building an annual report website, take advantage of information technology to beef up the company’s financial report.

An embedded video clip of the chairman’s message or snapshots of the company’s key achievements of the year can make the communication more engaging and convincing.

Even as companies grapple with decisions on the best form and format for their annual reports, they must remember that what they choose should be aligned with the company’s spirit — its identity, offerings and markets.