The First 25: Embrace the opportunity of the digital ecosystem
Corporate reporting is no longer just about standalone documents – instead maximise the value of your content and tell a singular story across all your digital channels.
The latest edition of the First 25, Navigating the sustainability odyssey – our annual review of corporate reporting suites – took a look at the latest trends and direction of travel in reporting. Although the research found that the balance of business focus has finally shifted towards sustainability in reporting, at times this felt confined to the printed reports and PDFs, with inconsistency across corporate communications suites an issue and messaging out of sync.
Or – to put it another way – is your corporate website and wider communication ecosystems accurately and consistently reflecting your latest reports’ content and messaging?
At Emperor, we believe there is real value in your digital platforms bringing to life the content from your annual and sustainability reports; presenting your audience with a clear and cohesive message across all channels.
Are standalone online reports enough?
One of the most common digital elements of reporting is a stand-alone online annual report; with 44% of companies in our review doing this.
Having evolved greatly over recent years, the stand-alone online annual report is an opportunity to showcase your company, its people, strategy, values, purpose, environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors, case studies, KPIs and performance. Linked to from the main corporate website – and promoted via social media channels – it can be a really creative and informative addition to your digital platform.
However, in our research we found that relatively few companies use their wider website to its potential – either in reflecting disclosures across the reporting suite, or using digital platforms to achieve more dynamic and interactive storytelling. On a simple level, we noted that some websites fail to reflect key corporate messages such as purpose statements.
When it comes to digital, there is an opportunity to do more.
Consider your entire digital ecosystem
There are many options for how you approach reporting digitally. You may decide to produce a stand-alone online annual report; you may decide to have embedded annual report pages within your corporate website; or you may decide to just upload the annual and sustainability report PDFs to your ‘Reports & Presentations’ page.
But whatever you decide, we’d strongly recommend that you don't restrict the reports’ content to just one place, and work to integrate consistent messaging throughout.
1. Embed and repurpose
Your annual and sustainability reports – alongside any topic-specific reports such as climate or diversity, equity and inclusion – contain up-to-date, interesting and valuable content. These should be weaved throughout your corporate website and across your digital platform.
Where updates have been made to core elements of your corporate narrative in your reports – such as purpose, strategy, values – it’s important they are reflected across the website. Key sections of your reports can be repurposed; for example, the ‘Business Model’ and ‘Strategy’ spreads make really engaging and informative webpages, while sustainability is a valuable area to bring to life on the website.
Going forward, we expect corporate reporting to become far more ‘digital first’; moving beyond a PDF download to become an immersive user experience, with greater use of video and animation. Some great examples include BT’s video introduction by the Chief Executive; L’Oréal’s Annual Report 2020 video summary; and the animation in Coats’ 2020 online Annual report.
2. Ensure consistency
To reflect the corporate narrative presented in these reports, where appropriate, reuse the same bold messaging, case studies and infographics to tell your story and demonstrate how you are driven by your purpose. And enhance this further by using video or rich imagery to bring it to life.
The information from within your reports should feed content that sits on your website:
On your homepage – including the key messages within the main banner.
Under ‘About Us’ – including the ‘At a glance’, ‘Business Model’, ‘Strategy’, ‘Our Vision and Values’ content.
Under ‘What we do’ or ‘Operations’.
Under ‘Investors’ – including ‘Investment case’ and Corporate Governance’.
Under ‘Sustainability’ – including ‘Our approach’, ‘Our SDGs’, ‘Our people’, ‘Health & safety’ and more.
By ensuring consistency of content across all channels and taking a fully integrated digital approach, you are creating a communication network that has one voice.
3. Consider all audiences
Reporting represents an opportunity to engage stakeholders on issues that matter to them. Like any good communications exercise, you should cater for all audiences – particularly where different audiences are looking for different information and in different ways.
For example, with sustainability, broadly speaking but not exclusively there are two key audiences:
Those that want to read real-life stories and case studies, and who truly want to understand your ESG strategy and goals (i.e. investors and job seekers).
And those who are more data driven, and want to explore and delve deep into the performance data (i.e. analysts and researchers).
For the ‘data driven’ audience, there can sometimes be a large number of supporting documents available - but dotted across the site. We’d recommend creating an ESG Download Centre to consolidate all of these documents in one place (for example, policy downloads, data sheets, performance reports and GRI reports).
The direction of travel in reporting is clear. In response to the increasingly sophisticated and diverse needs of stakeholders, the FRC’s ‘A matter of principles: The Future of Corporate Reporting’ has proposed a new framework based on the idea of a network of reports that complement one another and focus on communicating relevant information.
With many requiring in-depth detail on a specific topic, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is no longer appropriate and going forward, we can expect to see more targeted audience-led reporting and a multi-channel approach to communications. Some leading businesses have already started, although we found currently 20% do not produce any supplementary reporting aside from that required by compliance (for example, a modern slavery statement).
4. Share far and wide
Promoting all your disclosure content via social media can help to drive traffic to your digital platforms. Consider promoting your latest reports with clear and eye-catching graphics on LinkedIn or maybe with a 15 second animation. It could literally be as direct as: ‘have you seen our Sustainability Report 2021? Visit our website to see how we are performing.’
Another way to draw attention to your report and website is to tweet little enticing snippets and facts, or linking to case studies.
Three examples of great communications
The BT Annual Review 2021 is a truly engaging and interactive online experience.
BT was seeking to share a variety of stories to its diverse stakeholder audience and create an enhanced user experience – pushing the boundaries of what is expected. The report includes an array of stories detailing the company’s performance, progress and purpose, starting with the theme of ‘Good for…’.
Reckitt’s Sustainability section has a balance of information for all audiences; from informative case studies, to its Materiality Matrix, Policy download centre, where all the supporting documents are easily found in one place, and Data Hub, with key facts and figures clearly highlighted.
Evian's ESG Hub
Although not a listed company, Evian has created an engaging digital dashboard to track progress against its sustainability commitments and targets. It’s a simple, yet very effective, approach to keep its audiences up to date on its sustainability journey.
Set your story free
The hard work and detail that goes into your reporting is too valuable to just stay within the pages of the reports themselves.
Bring it all to life with different media, consider the diverse needs of all your audiences and stakeholders, and break down complex information to make it accessible. It’s the story of your company, and as such the content and messages should be reflected far and wide across all of your communications.
For more insight on creating a digital ecosystem and conveying a consistent message across all channels, and much more, you can download the complete First 25 research:Navigating the sustainability odyssey.