Print or digital publications?

As a school Head, you should be asking yourself if print publications still deserve a place in your communication and marketing mix. The answer is not as clear cut as you might first imagine.

Which is better: print or digital? Should it be both? Is print even relevant anymore? Is digital really the ruler of the communications world? 

These are some of the most common questions we are asked by school Heads across Australia — and rightfully so! Most questions arise around budget time when School Heads are trying to perform a cost and benefit analysis on their school magazine or annual. The cost is usually clear, but the benefits are not. Digital will almost always win in the cost column, but the purpose of your communication is not to reduce costs. It is, instead, to call readers to action, prompt them to think differently, or to tell stories that can be retold and generate valuable word-of-mouth.

imageseven recently swapped notes on the topic with Alastair Lee, a Melbourne-based advancement strategist and Founding Director of AlumGrow Consultancy.

“Despite the massive growth of digital engagement over the last two decades, print media is just as powerful as ever around the world,” says Lee. “While people are consuming an unprecedented amount of content across many different channels, studies globally are showing that digital is declining in its ability to attract an audience. Yet print media, comparatively speaking, continues to increase in popularity.”

The question is why, when we live in a fast-paced digital world, is print still popular?

To answer this question and help guide your school’s print versus digital decision-making we first need to dive deep into the reading habits and preferences of Australians. The research results explain this unexpected, yet enduring, phenomenon.

Australian research

Australia’s largest independent research organisation, Roy Morgan, recently released interesting research into the readership of magazines. The results showed that print publications remain the most popular format and that this popularity is growing.

Roy Morgan found that 53.8 percent of Australians aged 14 years and over prefer hardcopy publications over digital. This was up 1.8 percent from the year before.

It was also found that print publications were more widely read than digital by Australians.

Previous Roy Morgan research findings have also indicated a steady growth trend over some years now in Australia — with findings echoed in most developed countries around the world.

The advantages of print publications

There are many important advantages in maintaining some form of print publication as part of your school’s communications arsenal that digital simply can’t replicate. These include:

  • Print delivers greater reader comprehension and brand recall (77 percent versus 46 percent – Newsworks, 2020). 
  • People spend longer reading hardcopy as compared to online (almost 50 percent longer) and feel more compelled to action as compared to digital (80 percent versus 45 percent – John Potochny MD, 2017).
  • Print increases brain stimulation and therefore, willingness to respond to a call to action (20 percent higher – RC Brayshaw & Co, 2020)
  • Print media is more tangible than digital; it engages more senses, and it can be as emotive and as engaging a brand touchpoint as you make it – impacting more favourably on long term reader affinity.
  • Print media provides a space free from digital interruptions and distractions, drawing a reader’s full attention.
  • Mailing a print publication helps to keep your contact data clean as it encourages readers to update their contact details more readily, providing more diverse datasets – particularly important when it comes to alumni and donor nurture.

The advantages of digital publications

Despite the many advantages of print media, there are some significant upsides with digital publications including:

  • significant savings on postage, printing, and some administration costs
  • tracking and measuring of key metrics such as open rates
  • catering to audience preferences based on tracking metrics
  • cost effective and easy amendments to online content
  • allows for a more dynamic and interactive reading experience
  • caters for multiple devices and user preferences
  • easy and immediate global reach
  • instant feedback and shares from readers
  • potentially more environmentally friendly than print.

A balanced approach

“It is clear that there are many factors that should influence your decisions. Given the many pros and cons of print verses digital media, I think my original questions might be better framed as, ‘How can print and digital work together to best maximise opportunities for audience engagement?’” says Lee.

Evidence shows that using print and digital together delivers better results. Anecdotally, it is the experience of both AlumGrow and imageseven that clients benefit from this hybrid approach.

A recent report from the US Office of the Inspector General indicates that marketers who combined print with digital media had much more effective campaigns:

  • Sixty eight percent said the combination increased their website visits.
  • Sixty three percent said the combination increased their response rates.
  • Sixty percent said the combination increased their ROI.

Even global communication platform Mailchimp has realised that digital and print communications are best used in tandem, surprising many when it commenced its highly successful direct mail postcard service and partnership with the US Postal Service in 2019.

And the winner is …

For many school communication, enrolment and advancement programs, budget, audience preference (hopefully determined by research), and the influence of leaders (you) may be the final word in determining your preferred method or methods of communication.

However, as the evidence shows, using print and digital together as part of a diversified and balanced communications strategy will always deliver better results than either one on its own.

Ultimately, your school must walk its own path, but as Lee observed, “Deciding to rely solely on one format over another, risks alienating vast segments of your audience. This has always been a price that I’ve never been willing to pay as an advancement practitioner and marketer.”

The dilemma for school Heads and advancement practitioners is ensuring they know what their readers really want and expect from your communications and how to then balance this against your wider organisational goals.

So, which wins? Well … it’s complicated.

insight applied

  • Using print and digital together delivers better results.
  • Combining print with digital media can increase digital effectiveness.
  • A balanced approach is the best way to maximise audience engagement.

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