Marketing tool


Annual reports are formal financial statements that are published yearly and sent to company shareholders and various other interested parties. The reports assess the year’s operations and discuss the companies’ view of the upcoming year and the companies’ place and prospects in their industries. Both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations produce annual reports.

At its most basic, an annual report includes:

  • General description of the industry or industries in which the company is involved.
  • Audited statements of income, financial position, and cash flow and notes to the statements providing details for the line items.
  • A management’s discussion and analysis (MD&A) of the business’s financial condition and the results that the company has posted over the previous two years.
  • A brief description of the company’s business in the most recent year.
  • Information related to the company’s various business segments.
  • Listing of the company’s directors and executive officers, as well as their principal occupations, and, if a director, the principal business of the company that employs him or her.
  • Market price of the company’s stock and dividends paid.

Some companies provide only this minimum amount of information. Annual reports of this type are usually a few pages in length and produced in an inexpensive fashion. The final product often closely resembles a photocopied document. For these companies, the primary purpose of an annual report is simply to meet legal requirements.


Annual Report As A Marketing Tool

 Many other companies, however, view their annual report as a potentially effective marketing tool to disseminate their perspective on the company fortunes. With this in mind, many medium-sized and large companies devote large sums of money to making their annual reports as attractive and informative as possible.  In such circumstances the annual report becomes a forum through which a company can relate, influence, preach, opine, and discuss any number of issues and topics.

An opening “Letter to shareholders” often sets the tone of annual reports prepared for public held companies. The contents of such letters typically focus on topics such as past year’s results, strategies, market conditions, significant business events, new management and directors, and company initiatives.

The chairman of the board of directors, the chief executive officer, the president, the chief operating officer or a combination of these four usually sign  the letter on behalf of the company management. Some of these letters may run a dozen or more pages and include photographs of the CEO in different poses. More often, however, these letters are significantly shorter, amounting to 3,000 words or less. 

Annual reports usually advance a theme or concept that has been embraced by the company management and/or its marketing wings. Catch phrases such as “poised for the twenty-first century” or “meeting the needs of the information age” can unify a company’s annual report message. In addition, particular events or economic conditions of a given year may be incorporated into the themes advanced in an annual report.

Companies also use milestone anniversaries – including industry as well as company anniversaries – in their annual reports. Promoting a long, successful track record is often appealing to shareholders and various audiences, for it connotes reliability and quality. Still other companies have developed a tried – and – true format that they use year after year with little change except updating the data. Whatever the theme, concept, or format, the most successful reports are ones that clearly delineate a company’s strategies for profitable growth and cast the firm in a favorable light.


Target Audiences for Annual Reports

Current shareholders and potential investors remain the primary audiences for annual reports. Employees (who also are likely to be shareholders), customers, suppliers, community leaders, and the community-at-large, however, are also targeted audiences.



The annual report serves many purposes with employees. It provides management with an opportunity to praise employee innovation, quality, teamwork, and commitment, all of which are critical components in overall business success. In addition, an annual report can also be used as a vehicle to relate those company successes – a new contract, a new product, cost-saving initiatives, new application of products, and expansion into new geographies – that have an impact on its workforce. Seeing a successful project or initiative profiled in an annual report gives reinforcement to the employees responsible for the success

The annual report can help increase employee understanding of the different parts of the company. Many manufacturing locations are in remote areas, and an employee’s understanding of the company often does not go beyond the facility where he or she works.

An annual report can be a source for learning about each of a company’s product lines, its operation locations, and who is leading the various operations. The annual report can show employees how they fit into the “big picture.”

Employees are also often shareholders. So, like other shareholders, these employees can use the annual report to help gauge their investment in the company. In this case they realize that the work they are doing in making products or providing a service is having an impact on the value of the company’s stock.



Customers want to work with quality suppliers of goods and services, and an annual report can help a company promote its image with customers by highlighting its corporate mission and core values. Describing company initiatives designed to improve manufacturing processes, reduce costs, create quality, or enhance service, can also illustrate a company’s customer orientation.

Finally, the annual report can also show the company’s financial strength. Customers are reducing their number of suppliers, and one evaluation criterion is financial strength. They want committed and capable suppliers that are going to be around for the long term.



A company’s ability to meet its customers’ requirements will be seriously compromised if it is saddled with inept or undependable suppliers. Successful companies today quickly weed out such companies. By highlighting internal measurements of quality, innovation, and commitment, annual reports can send an implicit message to suppliers about the company’s expectations of outside vendors.

Sometimes an annual report will even offer a profile of a supplier that the company has found exemplary. Such a profile serves two purposes. First, it rewards the supplier for its work and serves to further cement the business relationship. Second, it provides the company’s other suppliers with a better understanding of the level of service desired (and the rewards that can be reaped from such service).



Companies invariably pay a great deal of attention to their reputation in the community or communities in which they operate, for their reputations as corporate citizens can have a decisive impact on bottom line financial performance. A company would rather be known for its sponsorship of a benefit charity event than for poisoning a local river.

Annual reports, then, can be invaluable tools in burnishing a company’s public image. Many annual reports discuss community initiatives undertaken by the company, including community renovation projects, charitable contributions, volunteer efforts, and programs to help protect the government. The objective is to present the company as a proactive member of the community.

This sort of publicity can also be valuable when a company is making plans to move into a new community. Companies seek warn welcomes in new communities (including tax breaks and other incentives).  Communities will woo a company perceived as a good corporate citizen more zealously than one that is not. The good corporate citizen will also receive less resistance from local interest groups. The company’s annual report will be one article that all affected parties will pore over in evaluating the business.

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