Annual company reports: to print or not to print?

Annual company reports: to print or not to print?

The annual company reports: to print or not to print?

Each year, company directors are required to provide a report on the status of their company. This serves two purposes:

  1. To share the necessary financial information legally required by the government and to shareholders.
  2. To inform the shareholders about the activities the company has conducted over the past year, along with other useful information about the industry, board members and markets they operate in.

Smaller, private businesses, usually only need to focus on the first requirement due to the limited number of shareholders and their proximity to the company. Larger firms with a more significant shareholder base, whether public or private, need to provide more information. The question is: what’s the best way to present this information, along with the financial data?

Traditionally, companies sent out a printed annual report – and many still do. But with sensitivities surrounding sustainability practices and environmental awareness, are the days of the printed report numbered?

Businesses around the world have mixed views

A consensus emerging is that companies should aim to become ‘print free’, for several reasons, including ecological sensitivities and cost. However, there are also practicalities involved too, that make it difficult for some businesses not to produce physical annual reports.

The basis for any decision to print or not to print really comes down to the people the report is intended for, and their circumstances.

Mature companies with a long track record will likely have acquired a wide range of shareholders. Some, more elderly shareholders, may not be able to read a report online, due to limited internet access or experience. Equally, there are those, perhaps younger shareholders, that wouldn’t dream of receiving a printed report.

Furthermore, companies with a more geographically dispersed shareholder base may find that some shareholders experience internet availability and access issues.

Printed reports still have their place

At The Creative Tree, we believe that like most things in life, the issue of printing or not printing comes down to one of balance. Not everyone’s needs are the same, and it’s the individual shareholder’s experience that counts.

Some shareholders just wanted printed versions, no matter what. Such shareholders see it as part value, part trust; the last vestiges of a bygone corporate era they still hold dear. Some don’t trust the internet and given the ever-growing threat of online scams, who can blame them; especially older shareholders who may not recognise such scams. Others suffer from access issues, making the downloading of significant media-heavy reports impractical and unattractive.

It’s quite clear that the printed report is far from dead, but we can at least reduce the impact they make.

If your company decides it does need to print physical reports, how much do you actually need to print? Is the ‘weighty’ report of the past, still a necessity today? Probably not, especially if one considers that the online version of the report can be the vehicle to convey the full experience, detail and depth the company wants to provide. In this case, the printed report can be minimised and provide only the essential data required.

A company can also choose to whom they offer a printed version. For instance, reports can be provided on a request only basis or in regions known to have issues that make printed versions more desirable.

Cost and environmental sensitivity is the key

Company directors have a responsibility to change their business practices to meet the needs of the day. This includes responding to cost pressures and ecological issues.

In finding the right balance in printing or not printing (or not printing so much), the duty companies have in improving their environmental footprint is probably one of the main drivers behind not printing; along with costs.

Such is the position a company board can take and put that to their shareholders. Given the high degree of publicity such issues have, it’s unlikely the shareholders would favour print, but would most likely look at the same problems and seek a workable compromise.

How to balance online and printed reports

The benefits of an informative media-rich, engaging online report experience can be quite obvious.

If you read through our page on creating a digital brochure, which shares many similar attributes to a company annual report, it becomes patently clear that there’s much to benefit from. The sheer mix of media an online report can offer in helping to communicate and explain the essential data and activities in which the company has to engage is astounding.

Online reports offer the chance to reach out to shareholders like never before; offering a level of experience like never before. They can even provide a more unique and customisable experience to a shareholder based on their needs.

The significant advantage though is simple: an online annual company report can be configured for print too. You can’t print a video or interactive slide show, but you can print images and transcripts. This information needs to be made available in any case, to cater to those with audio or visual impairments.

An online report can allow the reader to print if they so desire. It could also allow for a degree of user customisation. For instance, a shareholder may not want the entire document, just pieces relevant to them. Providing a menu-based ‘pick & mix’ mechanism the allows a shareholder to select the information sections of interest and then print what they need, is an ideal compromise and will likely satisfy most shareholders, even those with internet access difficulties.

Optimising for print.

Just like a web page, an online report as seen on the actual pages of a website probably isn’t all that suitable to be printed straight from the page, mainly as it likely contains mixed media elements too.

Web page based reports are designed around the needs of web technologies and web-based user experience. Put simply; it’s a website, not a printed document.

A PDF version is probably the simplest way to provide a printable format. However, what’s on a web page and what is in a PDF are often different versions too.

A printable annual report produced from a website needs to be created with its limitations in mind. It is entirely possible to generate a website-based report ‘intelligently’ and almost ‘automatically’, driven by the site visitors’ input. This is the user-generated annual report mentioned earlier.

The best of both worlds

At The Creative Tree, our experience with company annual reports can help you achieve the best of both worlds; in satisfying the broad mix of shareholders and your corporate responsibilities.

Our design teams can help you create an online ‘digital’ annual company report which delivers an immersive mix of technologies that help communicate vital information. Importantly though, the same techniques can be used to enable shareholders and website visitors to access key elements of that information as their need dictates – either solely online in a digital form, or partly in print.

Let the visitor or shareholder decide.

For more information on how The Creative Tree can help with your Annual Report, call us today on +44 (0) 1932 850 122.


If you think our creative agency will be a good fit for your next project, please contact us or call our studio on 01932 850122  to speak to one of our experienced designers.


At The Creative Tree, our annual reports process is systematic, and we’ll leave no stone unturned. Our annual reports process will result in your brand having a renewed sense of purpose, a clearer identity and a new level of excitement both within your company and with its audience.


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