Male hands hold a newspaper open

Print or digital media for your PR campaign? That’s the question.

As a leading Devon-based PR agency, our clients and prospects often ask us “do I still need print coverage to make my PR campaign successful?”  You want the simple answer? Well, there isn’t one! It depends on who you’re trying to engage with and what you’re hoping to achieve from your campaign. In an ever changing media landscape, working out the best mix of media is quite an art.
The death of print media? Definitely not!  The last few years have seen some major print publications either shut up shop completely or go online-only. Over the past 18 months we lost a number of big names. The Independent and Independent on Sunday moved to digital-only platforms, as did women’s glossies, InStyle UK and Essentials, while specialist titles such as Cycling Weekly and Cycling Sport ceased publication. In February, media behemoth Condé Nast moved its wellness glossy, Self, to a digital-only format and announced that from spring this year, Teen Vogue, will be reduced from monthly to quarterly editions.
These examples follow a trend that’s been gathering pace over the last few years. Titles such as FHM, Zoo, Nuts, Sugar, Bliss and Company – all of which were at the top of their game in their respective genres at one time – are no longer rolling off the printing presses. In the South West, our main regional daily, the Western Morning News, introduced a Sunday edition then closed it after less than two years because there was “not sufficient demand.” Other regional titles have gone from dailies to weeklies, with dramatically reduced paginations.
However, as gloomy as this situation might seem, there are titles that are bucking the trend. Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan and The Spectator all added to their circulations in 2016. And even for those that aren’t growing in terms of circulation, many are diversifying, engaging with bigger audiences through a whole range of communication channels, increasing their brand reach and maintaining their editorial authority. For those that do this successfully, their printed edition remains an important part of the content mix, with buyers of the printed editions arguably being some of the most engaged. This is backed up by neuroscience, with studies showing that print still has a bigger emotional pull and resonance with readers than digital.
So, despite the shrinking market and dwindling audiences, those that do read print publications tend to really engage with and value the content. Print, done well, is still very much alive. It also still has a big part to play in PR and marketing campaigns.
Why is everyone going digital? What does online have that print doesn’t? The main difference between print and online, when it comes to marketing, is that online content can be updated in real time and is shareable. This can be a huge positive: in the case of social media in particular, think virtually unlimited potential audience reach, the ability to react immediately to other content/ people, the facility to interact directly with your audience and being at the heart of relevant conversations between people that matter.
None of this comes easily and it takes time, skill and some really great content. Do it half-heartedly and you’ll create nothing more than a whimper. Do it well and the rewards can be huge. Do it poorly and you could damage your reputation; search results last long after today’s newspapers have become tomorrow’s chip paper, so you need get this right.
In the middle ground between social media and print media are websites that are curated or edited in a similar way to print publications eg blogs, magazine/newspaper sites etc. As with printed articles, your information (unless you’re paying to put it up there) may be edited and you don’t have the direct control that you do when you publish something yourself. However, if genuine mistakes are made things can be changed and the editorial credibility of being associated with a genuinely good online brand can do wonders for a reputation (not to mention your Google ranking). As with all marketing channels you take the good with the bad.
So how do you strike the right balance between print and digital?  One of the questions we’re frequently asked by clients is whether they should be ploughing all their resources into social media and digital PR at the expense of the more traditional promotional routes. Our response? We need to revisit the core marketing strategy before any decisions are made.
Effective PR and marketing doesn’t start with a list of the available communications channels, it starts with who you’re trying to target and what you want to achieve. Once these are firmed up we then look at the budget and recommend the most cost effective ways of reaching the right people and encouraging the right calls to action. This might be some really in-depth editorial in printed media to convey detailed information about a particular issue (often duplicated online by the publication anyway), or it could be a social media campaign designed to drive footfall to an event. No two campaigns are the same and the balance of print and digital will differ enormously, not only from client to client but also within different aspects of client campaigns, each with their own objectives.
It’s also important to constantly evaluate what’s working well and what’s not. That highly targeted social media campaign might not, despite careful research, be generating as many enquiries as a more traditional communication channel, in which case the balance of resources should probably shift. Just as the communications world is ever-evolving with new opportunities so should a good PR and marketing agency.  You need to be prepared to shift and change. This doesn’t mean jumping on every new online craze. It’s about ensuring you don’t have tunnel vision for any particular type of communication and creating the right mix of tools and tactics, tailored for each campaign.
There’s no doubt that the explosion of social media, blogging, vlogging and all things digital has opened up a host of new and exciting ways for brands to communicate their messages.
So in answer to the question on or off-line, the best advice we can give our clients is not to write off print and similarly, not to automatically view social media and online marketing as the be all and end all just because it’s the ‘in thing’ and everybody’s talking about it. In our opinion it’s best to use all tools at your disposal and a combination of on and off-line resources. If that sounds daunting and maybe more than you can handle alone, there’s always your friendly, informed and connected PR and marketing consultancy to turn to.
Want to understand more about how different PR and marketing tactics could influence your target audiences? Let’s talk!
Rachael Whitson
Dan Regan, Head of Engagement at Exeter-based Lightfoot, talking to delegates at Innovate 2017, the UK’s leading innovation show, held at the NEC Birmingham.
An illuminated sign reads Welcome to Totnes
Rachael Whitson, Managing Director of Absolute PR & Marketing with Lauren Williamson, Sales & Marketing Manager for Blue Cedar Homes.
Rachael with Dart 10k flag