GOOD online annual reports are back in style. As new laws make the Web the default disclosure medium, companies are looking to replace their trusty old printed annual reports and proxy statements with suitable online alternatives that won’t cause their shareholders to revolt or simply forget about them.
And if they’re subject to the requirements of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s rules for online proxy materials, they also want to be sure that they are providing their reports in formats that are convenient for onscreen reading and for printing. The fact is, our research over the years has repeatedly found that most companies are getting bad advice and poor quality work from big vendors that sell online annual reports.
That’s why we set out to find great online annual report designers, firms that have the experience and expertise to design great online annual reports — for companies and their investors. In August 2007, we invited online annual report producers anywhere in the world to submit their work to us to review. As part of their submissions, they also had to promise us they would never compromise and produce poor quality reports that don’t meet the SEC’s convenience standards. There was no fee for firms to enter and there is no relationship between us and any of the firms.
Had to meet minimum requirements
In all, we received 23 submissions from firms in places as diverse as Japan, Sweden and Brazil. Only the small group of firms you see below made the cut. To be included, firms had to show examples of reports that met the following basic requirements:
- All pages of the reports are provided in HTML and not images. Shareholders must be able to copy text from the documents and paste it into software of their choice.
- All data tables are formatted using HTML tables and not images to allow for easy right-click importing into Excel and for copying and pasting.
- A detailed, clearly labeled navigation menu is provided for each document (preferably visible on the left side of the web page) which allows shareholders to, at minimum, access main sections of each report.
- All HTML pages have printer-friendly HTML versions. These strip out unneeded elements from the page to save shareholders wasting paper when printing out information.
- Users can search the annual report and proxy statement with search utilities specific to each document.
- A downloads area is provided where shareholders can download, print or save a full copy of the annual report and proxy statement as well as individual sections of these reports in PDF. The financial statements should be available in Excel as well.
- A link should be provided in the navigation of each document to an order form where shareholders can request the reports to be mailed to them. U.S. companies should provide an email and phone option for ordering print materials.
In our view, the great online annual report producers will produce reports that meet all the above requirements. In fact, they should not do anything less than this because they have promised not to. If they don’t live by that standard, we’ll simply remove their names from the list.
By the way, the first company on the list, GeBer Geschäftsberichte, sent us over a dozen examples and each one was outstanding. But not to take away from the other firms on the list. They’re all really good, but just don’t specialize in online business reports as GeBer does.
Great Online Annual Report Designers 2007
Here are the great online annual report designers presented in order of the quality of their work:
I personally urge you to give any of the firms on this list an opportunity to pitch for your company’s projects. They are all highly qualified and committed to best practices.
If you think your firm should be on this list, feel free to review the requirements and send us your information. And to those companies that didn’t make the cut, please try again when you have examples to show that meet our basic requirements.