Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why Print Media Still Matters

There's a commonly held belief out there that print media is dead.  I've written on this before and you can bet that I'll write about it again in the future.  That's because it still matters.  It matters to small businesses and non-profits as much as it matters to big business, start-ups and those who make a living actualy working for these print outlets.

Understand that I'm not just talking about daily newspapers here.  I'm talking neighborhood and weekly papers and magazines, both general and trade.  While I'm a staunch supporter of social media as a powerful PR and marketing tool, I also continue to carry the flag for the more traditional print media as well, and I always will. 

It's not because I'm an older guy who grew up in a two-newspaper town.  And it's not because I grew up wanting desperately to be a writer for a major daily paper, although I did.  No, I support print media because it's still an extremely viable source for small businesses and non-profits to reach out to current and potential stakeholders, but also as a way to reach new audiences, expand their notariety and raise their overall profile.

I know, I can hear the gasps from business owners and marketers everywhere.  "How can you say that print is still viable?" they shriek.  There are a number of reasons why print still matters, but I suppose we should start with some hard, cold numbers.

This article from the Poynter Online site spells out the reach of newspapers alone as we enter the second decade of the new millennium. 
Myth: Newspapers Are No Longer Relevant

Next week, well over 110 million people in the United States will read some or all of the Sunday newspaper. Maybe they will enjoy the comics, or work the crossword. Maybe they’ll pore over a local investigative report and be hooked enough to go to the website and look at a video related to the story. Maybe they'll shout their displeasure at the paper's editorial on health care or a local zoning matter and even be outraged enough to write a letter to the editor. Maybe they'll study a baseball box score, put a local restaurant review up on their fridge or notice a shoe sale at the local department store.
That's a good start, but the article goes on to list some other eye-opening figures regarding newspapers:

1.  There are currently 1,400 daily newspapers in publication
2.  900 Sunday-only newspapers
3.  6,000 weekly newspapers
4.  Sunday readership is greater today than it was 10 years ago
5.  Viewership of newspaper online sites is up 5-million in the past year
6.  Newspapers did approximately $27-billion in business last year

No matter how you spin it, these are impressive numbers.  Before we move on, I have to point out that while the Poynter Institute is a very respected organization, it's primary focus is on promoting quality journalism and quality journalists.  So it has a vested interest in keeping newspapers and other print outlets financially and culturally relevant.

Dismiss the numbers if you will, but readership of daily newspapers isn't driving off a cliff the way it had been previously predicted.  In fact, when added to the number of magazine subscribers and readers, print readership is at the very least maintaining stable numbers, if not growing slightly.  I contend it has been the economy, where more businesses are choosing to put their advertising dollars elsewhere that has caused some outlets to flounder.

In the year before it folded, the Rocky Mountain News had a higher readership and subscription rate than at any time in its long history.  The same holds true for the Denver post currently.  It's not that readers are fleeing from print readership, it's that these outlets are having a hard time making ends meet financially in these difficult economic times.  Lagging advertising sales has more to do with the failing of some print outlets than lack of readership.

In fact, the following aticle from the Wisconsin State Journal (via Poynter Online) proves that newspapers aren't, in fact, failing as some had predicted.
Remember that 'most likely to fold' list of newspapers?
Wisconsin State Journal | Time.com

It was compiled by 24/7 Wall Street and published in Time magazine in March 2009. The author said "it's possible that 8 of the nation's 50 largest daily newspapers could cease publication in the next 18 months." Margaret Sullivan points out that "as the 18-month mark approaches, Time is not exactly batting 1.000. More like zero."
So newspapers aren't folding as predicted and every day new magazines come online.  The catch is that the ones that survive the initial year, the print outlets that are not ony surviving, but thriving, are the ones that utilize their online access the best.  And while the content might be online, it doesn't mean that these outlets have foregone their print past.

It's About The Reach:

There's no need to get into the aesthetics of reading a Sunday paper, or why GQ magazine is so much better in print format than online.  And we could argue that the organization makeup of traditional print media often delivers a more consistent and quality product than the alternatives.  We could also debate the value of the content found in online-only media as well as broadcast media vs. print media.  The analysis and in-depth coverage quality of print vs. the alternatives.  But this is really about what the survival of print media means to small businesses and non-profits.

The value of print media to small businesses and non-profits is apparent when you just look at the numbers.  The reach of your local media is powerful.  Think about it.  It's likely that you read the paper every day, either in printed form or online.  The same goes for your favorite magazines and even your neighborhood paper.  The same holds true for your current and potential customers and stakeholders.

You have to think of the audience you're trying to reach.  Chances are, if your audience is 25 years or younger, then the value of traditional print media is lowered.  This crowd just isn't reading daily newspapers like the generations before it.  However, they ARE reading online news fairly regularly, whether it's an RSS feed from their favorite magazine or paper. 

While this can be an alarming fact for many, remember that the previous generations also didn't read the news in the same manner as their predecessors.  That changed, though, as they got older, had families and news of the day became more important to them.  In other words, readership of print media may falter from time to time, but there will always be a steady flow of new readers to keep it alive.

This means your pitches sent to print outlets will continue to reach a massive audience.  Stories about your organization printed in magazines will find targeted audiences that could help grow your bottom line. 

Be Inclusive:

When you put together your PR campaign, you should include social media, broadcast entities and online news aggregators.  But you should also include print outlets into your plan as well.  Certainly your major daily paper needs to be part of your equation.  But don't forget your neighborhood weekly papers and specific magazines that cater to your audience.  These print outlets remain in business because they have a hard-core group of subscribers who value the content in these publications. 

This is why it's still important to continue to build relationships with your local print reporters and print outlets.  Any productive PR campaign still must include print outlets given the reach, continued viability and readership provided. 

While some print outlets have, indeed, folded over the years, the fact remains that although print media might not be as powerful as it once was, it still remains a vital and mighty powerful tool in your PR toolbox. 

Not only is print media not dead, it's still one of your best options when it comes to quality public relations.

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