There was a time when reading through a public company's annual report was mostly for those with problems sleeping. While arguably the most critical opportunity for companies to "strut their stuff" before the public and their investors, most annual reports were "yawn-worthy" glossy books with pages of boring text and pictures of lighthouses, compasses and yachts, in addition to piles of numbers and charts.
Thankfully, and at long last, 2013 has rung the death knell for the static, boring, sleep-inducing, hard-cover bug-swatting paperweight annual report. For all the annual report hoarders out there who still love getting hefty packages in the mail, not to worry: the movement is only just beginning. But like the move from radio to television, what is starting to emerge are more colorful, digital, interactive, engaging and entertaining packages that resonate - especially with the younger generation which has next to zero interest in reading anything on paper, and wants to be told what's going on - not dig for it.
Interactive charts and graphics; video snippets from the CEO and other senior executives; links to research, materials, blogs and other information: What it's all about is firms finally figuring out that they can shorten the distance between themselves and their investors through compelling pieces of collateral.
The annual report is a once-a-year opportunity for public companies to engage, educate and attract investors, prospective employees, and potential partners. Today's annual report should be an eagerly clicked-upon link that provides a personal (yes, personal!) experience to the person looking to know what a public company has been up to over its past fiscal year, and what its people have to say about it.
A shining example of this is Goldman Sachs's most recent annual report. Previously in my blog "Last Night, I Dreamed I Was The Goldman Sachs Social Media Manager," I noted that they have a virtual "white board" on which to create their digital presence. Until recently, they have had almost a silent public face, choosing to be more responsive and less active in their outreach.
It is quite a leap forward to see CEO Lloyd Blankfein become the living, breathing public face of Goldman Sachs when he appears on an introductory video to the 2012 Annual Report - in shirt sleeves no less! This is an outstanding example of how video can be used to "get to know" the personal brands that make up an organization.
Lloyd (I feel comfortable calling him Lloyd now!) is able to speak directly to his audience, and nuances of his personality are intertwined in the corporate messaging. This is a good thing. It is more transparent and authentic. Take a look for yourself. Here is the link.
Sure, there are still lots of rules, regulations and compliance requirements that surround putting out an annual report. The MD&A, the balance sheet and the Chairman and CEO's message all need to be within the letter of the law and compliant.
But last I checked there was no law stopping a CEO from doing a quick video hit explaining what his or her company has done over the past 12 months, and what they're expecting for the next 12 months. Last I checked there were no requirements that technical jargon and charts were a prerequisite either.
Today's annual reports and public communications are rapidly moving to video clips, infographics, animation, and more. The variety of presentation platforms must be leveraged to attract and engage investors, analysts, media and others who can potentially move the revenue needle. This endeavor needn't break the bank.
Executives who are bottom-line oriented may not immediately recognize the value of marketing and "object" to its perpetual struggle to show return on investment. This longtime struggle to "prove" marketing is becoming a reality as digital channels offer the ability to measure engagement. Firms who are first movers are reallocating their marketing budgets toward digital channels.
The socialization of marketing platforms has led to a greater ability to niche and target your audiences as well. Building personal brands weaves a tapestry of touch points for engagement and interaction. Whereas once there was only the corporate brand and a media spokesperson, today's best practices involve many becoming the "face" and "voice" of a larger corporate profile and brand.
Goldman Sachs' annual report is no longer a "telling" piece - it has crossed over into the digital age, to become an engaging piece of creative, interactive dialogue rather than a soliloquy. Here's to seeing many more follow in its trail-blazing path.
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