Pat Reese, Chief Media Strategist, Rooster Strategic Solutions

Legend has it that in 1493, the year Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type, Adweek ran an online article announcing “Calligraphy is Dead.” Since then, every technological advance has been accompanied by announcements heralding the demise of previously established media; newspapers will kill books, radio will make newspapers obsolete, video killed the radio star, etc.

Over the last decade hundreds of well-meaning experts have performed similar last rites on traditional print ads. On the surface, their argument has merit; digital advertising continues to expand with the rise of global internet users, while smart phones and social media have dramatically altered the media landscape. This all leads marketers to question the strategic worth of using a medium that may be dying and might not provide significant or measurable ROI.

But the increase in online readers hasn’t caused a proportional drop in print; on the contrary, a report by Statista showed that magazine readership in the U.S. has actually increased since 2012 while the number of hours spent looking at print has remained stable.  Online users aren’t abandoning paper – they’re simply consuming more and more content from a variety of sources. Why? For some readers, especially older Americans, print is easier to understand and retain. For others, trust and security are drivers; in a world of fake news and compromised databases, a magazine seems more tangible and trustworthy. Younger readers have been trained to ignore online ads and branded content to the point of not even noticing companies’ attempts to reach them but they still enjoy reading ads in magazines – for purely retro reasons, of course.

So, is print (finally) dead? No. It’s very much alive, and can be a powerful medium, especially for small and mid-sized agricultural companies. But the truth is that it has changed, and that you might be using it incorrectly.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to “old media.”

Target, target, target. In the old days (before 2001) companies ran ads in the local newspaper to encourage foot traffic to a store. Coupons were almost always included. This is still a valid approach if you have a bricks-and-mortar storefront and if your town still supports a local newspaper. But a better approach is to target attitudinally. For instance, look for professional journals, trade publications, industry newsletters or specialized magazines that target the same customers who buy your products and services. Don’t discount hobby or interest publications; readers typically spend more time with these and are far more likely to interact with your messages if they relate to their interests.

Equally important is to target demographically, as finely as your customer research data allows. Most regional and national publications will let you break down their distribution by crop, acreage, farm revenue, geography, and more. The cost per insertion will be slightly higher, but you’ll only pay forthe customers who are most important to you, based on your data.

Think outside the page. Speaking of interacting with your messages, the most effective ads let customers physically interact with messages. For instance, retailer L.L. Bean’s recent print campaign told customers to “just bring this ad outside.” The ad used special ink that showed up only when exposed to sunlight. Other companies have made use of augmented reality, QR codes, and other print/interactive technology to increase readership. If the price tag is too high for technology like this, defer to less expensive but tried-and-true methods. Ask a question, include a quiz, run a contest, or add a coupon that drives customers to your storefront or website. You don’t need to introduce products or services to your customers with print ads anymore; by the time the presses have stopped they’ve already heard about your new product, they’ve read reviews, and probably compared it to your competitors. But you can use print to tease, educate, or inform your customers, encouraging them to visit your store or website.

Make sure your print complements your digital. In fact, you should ensure that ALL your media is working together, taking advantage of the unique properties of each to help support your overall marketing strategy. There’s something unique about the printed word; it feels nostalgic, almost old-fashioned today, and gives you a way to break through the online clutter. This is especially powerful for ag companies, particularly those marketing directly to farmers and ranchers who tend to skew older. But make sure that your print ads use the same keywords and phrases that you’re using online, particularly if you’re paying for these. And if you’re driving folks to your website – and you should – it goes without saying that your website has to be ready before the print hits the streets.

Leverage the creative. The copy for your ad can and should be on your website. You can also use the creative in your digital and social campaigns, and as handouts or takeaways at shows, events, or in your store.

In summary, print isn’t dead. Despite what the doomsayers suggest, it’s still a very viable option, but you may need to use it differently than you have in the past. If you have any questions about your print schedule, or want to talk about ways to incorporate it into a full-blown media plan, I’d love to start a conversation.