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Print is Dead, Long Live Print

Print is dead! Long live print!

Some people profess that print is dead and that digital marketing is the only way that we should be communicating with our audience. If you’re running a venue with a diverse programme, digital marketing should absolutely at the top of your toolbox for above the line campaigns, but I’m still to be convinced that print is totally dead.

Getting married or celebrating a big birthday? Gearing up for Christmas? Chances are that you’re going to be sending invitations and cards out in the post. You might send a few things by email, but there are still going to be lots of printed invites and cards finding their way to friends and family somewhere along the line.

Even in the age of universal instant communication, print works because it’s valued differently by the recipient. For those important occasions, receiving a piece of print in the post is nicer, more personal and shows you’re thinking about the other person.

But are we really using print to our advantage? I get sent a lot of season brochures, flyers and appeal letters in the post from the arts organisations I follow. They’re all very lovely, nicely designed and informative. But instead of warmly receiving them and avidly reading their contents, I chuck nearly all of them straight into the recycling. Why? Because I was already aware of nearly all of the performances and campaigns that were being advertised. I’d already received emails, read reviews online, looked at listings sites and browsed around venue booking pages. I didn’t need the bit of print.

Despite the fact that we all profess to be absolutely committed to segmenting properly and using our modest resources for marketing spend judiciously, my experience as a frequent arts attender is that this isn’t the case. When I visit our client venues, I still see boxes and boxes of flyers behind the box office counter that are waiting to be overprinted with performance details and sent out in their thousands to unsuspecting audiences. I still get sent stuff that isn’t relevant to me or has already crossed my radar by electronic means.
 
So while print isn’t dead, it does need to be adapted and we need to be smart about how we’re using it. Here are some hard and fast rules to print by: 

When you should use print.

At the venue for pickup and exit flyering. 

People who are in your venue are usually there for a reason. It might be to see a show, to browse what’s on, to look around, etc. One way or another, they’re likely thinking about your organisation and now is as good a time as any to get print into their hands.

For audiences for whom you’ve not got any other marketing permissions.

If your customers are booking online but not giving you permission to send them emails, can you post things to them instead? That’s better than nothing at all, but still an expensive way of doing business. Send them print that encourages and rewards email sign up. 

For audiences who only react to print.

Ask an arts marketer who they think “still prefers to get a brochure in the post and won’t book online’’ and the answer will be any of the following: older audiences (what do we mean by ‘older’ anyway?); classical music audiences; ballet and opera audiences; and class and workshop bookers. 

It might once have been true that these audiences responded only to print, but those days are long gone. If you’re still working to that myth, then you’re wasting money on print. There very likely is a subset of these audience segments and some others that do respond best to print, but I bet that’s a smaller proportion of people than you think it is.

Before you do the number crunching to find out, make an informed estimate about the number of people in your database who book within a week of receiving print and don’t book within a week of receiving an email. If the actual number is smaller than you guessed, start to shift your perception of how your comms are being received. 

When you shouldn’t use print. 

When a promoter sends you boxes and boxes of A5 flyers and insists you do a direct mail. 

Unless you’re working to a properly thought out plan, sending out print just because a promoter wants you to is a really bad idea. You know your audience better than they do, you control the message about your organisation – not a third party whose only interest is selling seats for their production alone. 

When you’re about to put that lovely new season on sale and you want to send a brochure to everyone who has booked since 2000.

This might sound like a joke but it comes with a serious point – it happens more often than you might think. You shouldn’t ever send a brochure to absolutely everyone on your list, the reason being that your audience isn’t a homogenous mix of personalities. It’s made up of discrete audience segments all of whom have different expectations from you. Treat them individually and not universally and you’ll be rewarded. 

Because your board/chief executive/funder/council says you should.

Unless they know your audience as well as you do, this is a terrible reason for sending out a mailing! Prove to your stakeholders why you need to hold off from sending out print all over the shop. Demonstrate cost versus return and the impact on your marketing budget. Watch as mouths fall open and apologies tumble out...

Because we’ve always done it.

Another terrible reason. The absolute worst. Untested, unmeasured campaigns sent out to everyone are expensive, offer reduced return versus targeted communications and irritate lots of different audience groups all at the same time. Don’t do it!

Print isn’t dead, but it is in decline. Invest time in making sure that you’re only using it at absolutely the right time and see your mailing costs tumble. Use all the time you’ve saved to write lovely messages in your Christmas cards.