MONDAY 16 SEP 2019 3:39 PM

REPORTING CAN IMPROVE REPUTATIONAL RESILIENCE, SPEAKERS SAY

This may prove to be a seminal year for annual reporting professionals. With the implementation of the European Single Electronic Format (ESEF), reporting is becoming more digital-first and focusing more on the needs of the investor and analyst. Communications professionals gathered at a conference in London on Friday to discuss the challenge this – and other changes – pose to the annual report.

The Evolution of the Annual Report conference featured speakers from some of the UK’s biggest companies including Burberry, Coca-Cola European Partners and PwC. Debates and roundtable discussions encouraged dialogue about the way the annual report is developed and what it communicates.

PwC found that while most reports share a strategic outlook, only 25% provide insights into market drivers beyond the next year. Thus, companies are planning, but without consideration of the market context. This may, in light of the potential issues that may emerge from Brexit, prove foolhardy in retrospect. Mei Ashelford, director of reporting intelligence from Gather, says that reporting professionals have lost sight of why reforms like the ESEF are coming in, to the point where reporting requirements – like those related to Brexit and to human slavery – are seen as a compliance issue, rather than compelling change in corporate behaviour as they are supposed to. Speakers said the annual report may be losing effectiveness because its content and the expectations placed on it are “almost too much for one document.”

Despite the difficult environment, there are companies achieving excellence through their reporting. Sharing award-winning case studies from the Corporate & Financial Awards, speakers from Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) and Burberry discussed the ways in which their annual reports focused on formatting and storytelling as a way of exploring corporate change. Helen Baker, head of secretariat at CCEP, says the company successfully integrated three companies’ worth of information, increased its sustainability content and reduced the overall word count and print run. Louise Pyman, senior manager corporate communications at Burberry, similarly integrated sustainability messaging into the report while using the corporate rebrand as a driver for an updated digital and print report format.

Finally, in a debate about the links between reputation, resilience and corporate reporting, Salterbaxter and MSL led a discussion which delved into the value of sustainability reporting. “Most companies consider reporting to be a burden, whilst missing the opportunity,” Tom Bell, director of MSL, said, quoting a client. But, the annual report offers companies the chance to explore corporate value, the value of the brand and the tell the company’s own story about its operations. That’s what Mondi Group and Howden Joinery focus on in their reporting, using sustainability to unlock the hidden value in their businesses. “Reporting shouldn’t tell a flowery story, reporting should capture the essence of what’s happening,” says Kerry Cooper, senior manager of external communication, group communication and marketing at Mondi Group.

As the gap between reputational resilience and organisational resilience disappears, she says, companies are compelled to think carefully about what they say and do, and sustainability reporting offers the opportunity to improve the value of the company in stakeholders’ eyes.

Attendees also discussed at several roundtables the impact of integrated reporting, Brexit, human capital and intangible assets, among other topics, on corporate reporting.

The Corporate & Financial Awards takes place on 24 September. To book your tickets, click here.

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