Corporate reporting

BT: An online connection

BT’s 2021 online multi-media winning report was full of effective tools and messaging 

BT won the best online report at the inaugural Strategic Comms Awards with its dazzling multi-media report. But to what extent does an online report differ from the traditional report? ‘People engage with it very differently and you get a lot more opportunity to guide people through the content in a way that will get them to what they want as naturally as possible,’ says Sandra Gonzalez-Parkinson, who led BT’s corporate affairs team on the report. ‘We take a mobile-centric approach, knowing that most will access the content on mobile devices, while still making it work nicely on a laptop.’

The idea being that a typical user of an online report is less likely to read the report in full. ‘Typically, they look for the key themes, data points and information, in a briefer, snappier format online, before they dive deeper,’ says Gonzalez-Parkinson. ‘Tone and design are crucial, and it needs hooks for user engagement, through stories, charts, sound bites and headlines. Of course, PDFs of the full report and sections are easily downloadable, should their interest in an area be piqued.’

Video is great for providing an easily digestible summary for a viewer who might not want to read the whole report

Does the messaging itself change for an online report? ‘The core messaging has to be the same. It is after all reflecting the same strategy and performance as other reporting formats,’ she says. ‘The visuals can and should be punchier and more human, with multimedia helping a lot. But the two formats of the report are strategically defined at the same time, and in parallel, to ensure they align.’

To assist in the messaging, BT had a story-led approach in the online report. ‘We use ‘stories’ to show rather than tell how we are working towards our strategy, and what has contributed to our performance. We don’t have to look far to find them, as they come from our colleagues across our different business units, and over the years we’ve built up great contacts and sources,’ says Gonzalez-Parkinson.

BT also effectively used multi-media in the online report with connections to videos, one example. ‘Video is a natural fit for digital, something we always consider prominently in the planning phase,’ says Gonzalez-Parkinson. ‘It’s great for providing an easily digestible summary, an individual’s perspective or animated data points, for a viewer who might not want to read the whole report, or who wants to pick up the overall themes and tone of the year before they wade into the detail.’

BT also focused strongly on different stakeholders in the online report. ‘We actively consider a very full range of stakeholders for the online report: other businesses, retail customers, regulators, our colleagues, as well as investors, both retail and institutional,’ says Gonzalez-Parkinson. ‘It is important to represent their interests in our content and story, as well as to provide content in the format that each of them want.’

Exploiting online opportunities in this way is very important to present the message – but also to engage with stakeholders. Gonzalez-Parkinson adds: ‘That is another reason why digital is so important for us, as we know some stakeholders, especially customers and colleagues, are more likely to engage with our report on screen than in print.’

BT also exploited its good history of effective taglines, this time using the snappy Connect for good. ‘It’s not unique to our annual report; it’s our purpose for the business as a whole, and central to everything we do,’ says Gonzalez-Parkinson. ‘We’re here as an organisation to let people and organisations harness the power of technology – removing limits and unlocking potential. All of our reporting is the outcome of a huge team effort rather than any individual, but that tagline is the ethos of the whole company.’