Fund companies along with other corporations are taking a more somber, serious approach to their annual reports, with many of the annuals for fiscal 2001 ended June 30 coming out now. The economic and regulatory environment is causing many firms to try to reassure investors that companies mean business.

"There's definitely a more serious tone to annual reports," said Ken Fox, EVP at RWI Design of New York. A key focus is reassuring investors that their money is in responsible, honest hands, added New York-based Gene Meyer Associates Principal Gene Meyer. Firms are telling shareholders and other investors that the "WorldCom's and Enron's are not indicative of the corporate world as a whole," Meyer said

"There's no fun in annual reports right now," said Terry Davis, president of See See Eye of Atlanta. "There's way too much on the table about investor confidence, and no CEO wants to come across lightly. These are serious times for annual reports."

Additionally, since few companies are doing as well as they were during the height of the bull market, they do not want to give investors the impression that they're squandering money on fancy designs. As a result, wacky annuals such as Jack in the Box Inc.'s award-winning Dr. Seuss-style 1999 annual report are a thing of the past.

According to the National Investor Relations Institute's recent annual report survey, the median budget for 2001 annual reports fell to $124,900, including production and distribution but not postage. This is 10% less than the median budget set for annual reports at the height of the dot-com boom in 1999.

Many companies are cutting costs by moving some processes in-house. Currently, nearly three-quarters of companies write their annual reports in-house, as opposed to just under two-thirds in 1999. Likewise, more design work is being done in-house, with as 24% done in house in 2001.

Companies have also been cutting down on print runs in an effort to save money. Back in 1996, the average print run produced some 99,000 copies per company. In 2002, that figure has fallen 6% to an average 92,700. As a result, only 46% of companies advertise the availability of their annual reports, down from 55% three years ago.

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