Print Advertising: To print or not to print…a good question

In print by PushPullLeave a Comment

(updated May 2017)

PRINT IS DEAD. You’re going to hear that more and more. The fact, is print isn’t dead at all, it just kind of smells funny and here’s why:

1 Cost 

2 Frequency

3 Relevance

Cost: It’s not cheap to run print ads. Ink, printers and labor are expensive. In the B2B world, trade publications have perfected the monetization of real estate. It would be nice if you thought your advertising dollars could get you serious editorial content, but sadly, you will see a competitor sharing the same spotlight on an issue about which you know far more – and they don’t even run ads. Publications call this a level playing field, but businesses call it the commoditization of their industry. Either way, someone that hasn’t paid for ad space is getting exposure.

Frequency: Marketing professors love to tout, “frequency is king, you have to run that ad over and over”. Well, no, it isn’t and no, you don’t. Not unless you are selling to a large audience over a large landscape (think sneakers and sodas). Let’s look at it this way; if your available audience of potential prospects is small compared to the reach of the publication, then you are wasting money. If the reach is large and the audience is large, you still have to ask yourself how many people are truly reading the publication. There are no Google Analytics for print publications.

Relevance: There are two areas of relevance that need to be considered here: The relevance of your company/product/offering (within your industry) AND the relevance of the publication as a print piece. Most companies that believe in ad campaigns will say, “If we aren’t in the publication, we lose relevance and people will think there is a problem with us”. It’s completely understandable to have that reaction, and if it were 1980 or 1990, you would be correct; but it’s not. Today, there are numerous marketing avenues available to let the business community know you’re alive and well. Now, consider the relevance of print itself: Given the option in 2015, people will gravitate to video before they read something. And if your print ad has a lot of copy, it’s unlikely it will even be seen, let alone digested.

So, the big question is: Is it worth continuing extended ad campaigns?

Well, you have to ask yourself the following questions:

1How big is my potential audience?

2How broad is the publication’s reach?

3What is my budget?

There are other questions for sure, but these three will get you most of the way to where you need to be. A typical print campaign will eat up available cash pretty quickly. In an age when we have so many tools that allow us to know what is happening (in relative real-time) and react with personalized, responsive marketing, there must be a clear strategic goal if you are planning on committing budget dollars for a 12-18 month campaign. These campaigns are hard sells for mid-size companies (for a variety of reasons, which could take up another blog post). The point is: it’s expensive and you do can do a lot of cool things with those dollars if you are creative.

How big is my potential audience?

You should have a good handle on the available prospect base in your industry. Call it ‘lead scoring’ if you like. You should know who the high-value targets are and you should know the ones to pursue. This isn’t news for anyone reading this but it’s a practical reality that plays into the decision making process when you are talking about spending print dollars. How likely are you to reach them – in a meaningful way – via print ads?

How broad is the publication’s reach?

This ties right in with the above paragraph. If the potential B2B audience isn’t huge, and the publications don’t have the right circulations, the value will not be there. However, if the audience is large enough and the publications have strong circulations, you’ll want to take a closer look. But even with that, you have to ask yourself, “How many decision makers are reading those publications faithfully?”. Look around your offices.  How many trade pubs are laying around not being read?

What is my budget?

It’s probably a safe assumption that your answer is something to the effect of, “not as much as I’d like”.  With the surge of multi-media devices, the internet, video, social media and more, it’s much more of a dance to figure out where the dollars should be spent. And, unless you have dedicated staff to handle SEO and social media, it’s likely some of your budget went down those black holes. This leaves you with even fewer dollars with which to forge a meaningful print campaign.

So, when it’s all said and done, you have to think carefully about keeping a percentage of your budget tied up in print advertising. Of course print ads can be effective, but it’s important to understand what the end goal is. Just running an ad to ‘be there’ is not a smart use of your budget.

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