Oct 17, 2016

Why You Need to Integrate Your CSR and Annual Report Design

by Gini Queen
Corporate Communication

There is a growing trend to blend your company’s annual report design with the corporate social responsibility (CSR) report into one integrated document. But does it really make sense for your business? Let’s evaluate…


The only thing required by the SEC is that public companies file a 10-K to report their annual business dealings, but many corporations wisely capitalize on this “necessary evil” by turning it into a valuable marketing tool. A well-designed annual report that tells an engaging story goes a long way in setting it apart from all the other “plain brown wrapper” reports that are placed in an investor’s hands.

Is your annual report design memorable? Conduct the “stand out from the crowd” test to find out:

  1. Have someone gather a handful of annual reports from comparable companies and similar industries

  2. Without you looking over their shoulder, have that same individual spread those reports, face up, on a table and include your company annual report in the mix. The more “random” scattering, the better

  3. When ready, come into the room and pick up the first book in the group that your eyes fall on (no fair hesitating!). That’s the one that stands out from the crowd.

If the “winner” happens to be your company’s annual report, congratulations! But if it isn’t, identify why you were attracted to the book you selected—was it the imagery? The graphic elements? The colors? The shape? The font? The message? Chances are, it was a combination of most (if not all) of the above.

If a 10-K is a SEC-mandated “necessary evil,” why not capitalize on that situation and turn it into a vehicle that not only meets the financial criteria, but is also your top marketing document for investors and beyond.



Before discussing the added value sustainability report can offer, the difference between “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) and “sustainability” needs to be addressed:

  • CSR — like the annual report, looks back on the last 12 months, revealing what the company has accomplished relative to contributions to society and the communities in which they operate.

  • Sustainability — is forward-looking, spelling out beneficial changes and adjustments the company is planning to make relative to reducing waste, being more environmentally responsible, and building its trust, thought leadership and reputation in the industry.

In today’s competitive market, sustainability reporting is a huge value add for a company in the eyes of your audience, and has proven to achieve its return on investment. Companies who provide consistent, thoughtful sustainability reporting gain more credibility—from the investor community to end-consumers.


Take advantage of blending the financial reporting included in your annual report with the sustainability strides being taken in your company into one integrated story.

Taking what we learned from the “stand out from the crowd” test, treat your integrated annual/sustainability report like your top branding/marketing tool (because it is!) to attract new investors, educate stakeholders, engage employees and build trust with end-consumers. Beautiful thought-evoking imagery, creative story-telling, balanced, tasteful design and a compelling message is the recipe for achieving return on your investment (and proving to the C-level that it was worth it)!