Ride the Wave, This Annual Report Season

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While an array of formal and informal communication platforms continues to emerge, the annual report remains the most imperative tool for investor communications today. Nicholas Goh, CEO of Verztec Consulting Pte Ltd, a leading ISO 9001:2008 provider of global content management and localization services, shares a tip sheet on current practices in financial reporting.

While an array of formal and informal communication platforms continues to emerge, the annual report remains the most imperative tool for investor communications today. Nicholas Goh, CEO of Verztec Consulting Pte Ltd, a leading ISO 9001:2008 provider of global content management and localization services, shares a tip sheet on current practices in financial reporting.

Investor relation is an important component in the entire communications sphere, especially to a publicly-listed company. While a myriad of activities and instruments, including press releases and shareholders' meetings, is essential and easily implemented, the annual report plays a pivotal role in shaping stakeholders' perceptions and, increasingly, a company's brand image.

Today, the annual report has evolved to become more than just a tool for financial communication. It could - 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 that will help meet the company's diverse communication objectives.

1. Necessity for Translation

It is common for a company to produce its annual report in English. This makes it accessible to a global audience, especially in this digital era when stakeholders may be widely dispersed around the globe. For the same purpose, companies located in non-English speaking countries also produce annual reports in English, in additional to their local language versions.

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

In both scenarios, translation or localization of annual reports is a necessity. Translation allows audience from different geographical locations to gain access to a company's corporate information more readily - an important move to expand the shareholder base.

2. A Tool for Marketing and Branding

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 the publication, companies may influence stakeholders' perceptions of their image, products and services, or any other corporate issues.

And it projects the corporate image through not just its textual content but contextual as well. That means the manipulation of design elements and reiteration of corporate messages, the facets that touch the audience's senses. As we all know, people remember you most on how you make them feel.

Hence, the annual report is a highly-significant piece of communication. It can quickly do - or undo - a company's well-entrenched and well-meaning identity.

3. Greater Emphasis on Concern for Environment

Thanks to the media's growing attention on environmental issues, 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 completely doing away with printing hardcopies, 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 theirs in USB drives in favor of 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 the corporate image.

4. Viral Outreach via Microsite

There is an unstoppable trend for information to go digital. With an increasing number of stakeholders going online, producing an online version of the annual report has become a necessity - not just a social responsibility concern as pointed out earlier. The online annual report not only supplements the print version, it also enables you to reach out to a much wider demographic of stakeholders. Done well, your stakeholders can't wait to share what they see with their circle of contacts. You'll be reaching virtually the entire world!

However, it is imperative to take note that a report broadcast through interactive media should be crafted with considerations to online reading habits. Hence, it is worth budgeting for a well-constructed microsite that not only performs its most essential function of financial reporting, but also upholds the integrity of the user experience.

5. Harnessing of Information Technology

Parallel to the move in building an annual report website, taking advantage of information technology helps to beef up a company's financial report significantly. 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 best form and format for their annual reports, the ultimate adoptions should be aligned with the company's spirit - its identity, offerings and markets.

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Nicholas Goh
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