Why digital corporate reports should be built on a stand-alone website
By Staffan Lindgren
When companies create an online annual or sustainability report, a common question is whether the report should be integrated into the corporate website or exist as a stand-alone site.
There are several factors that affect a company's decision on how best to produce and publish their digital annual or sustainability report. In many cases it would seem logical to use the content management platform and processes used for the corporate website and present the report as an integrated part of the site.
The case for this is often based on using available technology and leveraging previous investments into the website. However, there are several compelling reasons why a digital corporate report should be built on a stand-alone website.
A document of record that is available over time
One of the main reasons for having reports as separate digital documents is that they should be available over time. Reusing templates on a corporate site introduces a risk that when you change the design and experience of that site site, your annual report is affected.
Over time reusing templates for content like an annual report builds up a huge content repository that becomes a hurdle when you want to change technology or update the site, driving complexity and cost. By keeping the annual report as a separate, stand-alone site, you avoid many of these pitfalls.
"Avoid building a large content repository on a corporate site that drives complexity and cost for your site."
Having the report as a stand-alone document also increases the validity and prominence of the report. It is a document that has been approved by the board, a fact which often gets lost in the overall experience if the annual report is created as a section on the corporate site.
Unique design and experience
The design for an annual or sustainability report should reflect the company and the time. Design trends or larger events can influence the product to create something that is unique. It is still on brand, but also something that is representative for the year it depicts.
"The design should be a sign of the times as much as it is on brand."
Reports contain significant content that you wouldn’t normally find on a corporate site. Financial notes, large tables and illustrations enable it to fulfil compliance and tell the story of the company. User experience for anyone reading this content is very important. Making it intuitive for your readers to find information, drill down into the detail and move between content is easy if you create the report with reading on screen in mind.
"Most digital reports today are not designed for reading on screen and therefore miss the opportunity of creating a compelling and intuitive experience for readers."
Using design thinking methodologies to develop the experience is a tried and tested way of improving the experience and applying this approach to an annual report gives tangible and measurable effects. Simply put, people will love the way your report looks and works.
Design is also about content
How you produce and package your report is important but equally important, if not more so, is how you work with and design the content. This includes developing the concept for the report, making sure that it sets the scene for what you want to say about the year, and then section by section writing, illustrating and crafting the stories that make up your review of the year.
A report is more often than not a continuation of what was said last year. This is a very good practice as it ensures messaging remains consistent.
Adding the progress for the year and developing stories lets you tell the narrative as it should be. When working with digital design, doing user tests and verifying the impact is a key part of the process. This improves the overall quality and efficiency of the report and is made possible by the flexibility digital technologies provide.
Use the flexibility that digital tools give you to test and improve the design and content of your annual report. You have the time!
Improve distribution and reach your stakeholders in a better way
In many ways we have forgotten about a key aspect of the annual report over the last 10 years. Sending it out to our shareholders and stakeholders.
We have stopped printing the report and we produce a PDF document which we publish on the corporate site. We expect people to go to the site and find the report, and many do. But we are not making it easy for them, and we only get the audience that are really interested in the report.
Reports contain some of the most valuable high-quality content from a company. What other content has the approval of and reflects the opinions the board, the CEO and key people in the organisation?
Once the content has been created, vetted and approved, companies need to complete the final step to release the information publicly. While this was done by post 10 years ago, distribution methods have changed today and involve making sure the report and its content reaches the intended audiences. As much as 20% of the report budget should be allocated to making sure you reach your intended audience through digital distribution.
"Paying for the distribution is nothing new. We always paid for postage, now we pay for visibility on Google and on other channels."
Annual Reports are better made digital
Annual Reports have been a passion and part of what we do since we started working in corporate communication in 1996.
Every year we support companies with both large and small reports and we now also review a large number of reports in our Annual Report on Annual Reports and ReportWatch services.
We produce annual and sustainability reports using various platforms, including our Website as a Service platform. This includes the capability to work with content for screens and PDF documents, and the reports can be delivered as a stand-alone site that can be hosted anywhere and on any type of web server.
If you would like to discuss options for your corporate reporting, please get in touch.