Print: It’s not dead yet

There are times when a few pieces of paper so soundly trump digital; it’s not even debatable.

Not so sure about that? Watch this short video: Le papier.

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Okay, that video might have gone a bit overboard. But there is a weight and substance to paper and ink, that cannot be entirely dismissed. Yes, I mean that literally and figuratively.

If you had to guess (and for fun, let’s just say that you do), would you say that more print magazines were killed in 2012 than were killed in 2011? And, as long as you are guessing here, would you say that 2012 saw more launches of new print magazines or new digital magazines?

If you guessed that fewer print magazines folded in 2012 than in 2011, you were correct. In fact, it wasn’t even close. According to Mediafinder.com:

  • Only 74 print titles folded in 2012; 142 died in 2011

And as far as new launches, print is still king. The online database of U.S. and Canadian publications also found:

  • 195 print magazine titles were launched in 2012, compared to 181 the year before
  • 32 digital-only magazine launched in 2012, compared to 58 in 2011

These numbers show an upward trend in print from 2011 and a downward trend in digital. Most likely, the trends reflect the difficulty commercial publishers are having in making a profit online.

However, there were also 24 print titles, most notably Newsweek and Spin, that went to a digital-only publication (29 did this in 2011), reinforcing the belief that print is dying.

In last week’s Upstart Business Journal, Samir Husni, the director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi also know as “Mr. Magazine”, attempted to answer that.

He said the reason big players like Time Warner are ditching print is not due to unprofitability but rather bloated management hierarchies that care more about personal wealth than taking care of the product.

Mr. Magazine also noted that 2013 opened with the launch of 66 new print titles in January.

Meanwhile from the nonprofit side of the fence, many university alumni magazines are sticking with print as one of the primary and most successful tools for keeping alumni feeling connected to their alma maters and for bringing in support.

Direct mail is similarly robust. The return on investment for direct mail is between 11 and 13 dollars for every one dollar invested. By contrast, non direct mail’s ROI hovers around five bucks, according to the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Here’s my take away: when people get a quality magazine (or even a quality direct mail appeal?), it is more likely to be received as a welcome gift. Email, maybe not so much. Going online to read? Again, not the same draw as that nice paper product they sent you.

Bottom line, despite the popular belief that print is dead, this is not the whole story. Now, pass me some paper.

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Infographics: A scenic overlook for readers

When you’re cruising down a curvy highway at 75 miles an hour in the middle of a long trip, it’s nice to come upon a place where you can pull over for a break.

Anyone in marketing is aware of the demands on people’s time. No matter how fun new media can be, it also adds to the relentless onslaught of information everyone is trying to process. As a result, communicating more rapidly through visuals has never been more important.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I work on a print magazine. Within such a conventional vehicle, it is always a struggle to come up with the right combination of text and graphics to communicate our key messages.

So I always do a “flip test” before putting any publication to bed. Basically I take a final look to see if someone in our target audience didn’t read a single word but simply flipped through and glanced at a few things, would they still get the big picture?

Because I work with an incredibly talented art director the answer is always yes. Invariably, he’s already done a fabulous job with art directing our photography and creating compelling and visually appealing design. I try to do my part with edgy headlines, captions, subheads, pull-out quotes and so on.

But it seems like it is time to step up our game to really engage our increasingly information-fatigued readers. To go beyond the flip test and actually get more of them delving in, really understanding and becoming advocates for our institution.

Recently, that led me to infographics.


What is an infographic?

The best way to explain an infographic is with an infographic.

This is an infographic on infographics from visual.ly which states: “Using Lego blocks and photography we wanted to show that a good infographic is simple and requires very little text.”

 

What is an infographic?


Is this just a trend?

Major publications have featured infographics for decades at least in the forms of pie charts, bell curves, Venn diagrams, bar graphs and the like, as well as in-depth, complex illustration to communicate information that would be unwieldy in text form.

In fact, the concept is anything but new. You could argue that the earliest humans invented infographics when they drew on cave walls.

But infographics have been repurposed in a social media context as profound, creative and absolutely fascinating ways to visualize data.


Where does writing fit in?

While infographics clearly put graphic designers and artists in the lead, the need for good writing and editing will still be an important component.

Marketingprofs.com offers this advice on infographics:

“Edit, edit, edit. Your infographic tells a story, and like any story it benefits from a careful editing process. The end result should be a clear narrative that flows logically from beginning to end.”

So if you were starting to think this infographic stuff has little to do with writers and editors, think again!

Any successful marketing communications should follow a simple three-step process: entertain first, engage second and educate (or sell) last. Done right, infographics can do all of that, becoming a universal language for telling a story with one look.

But that doesn’t mean that clarifying the purpose, researching the content and operationalizing the concept won’t require a good writer/editor.

I liked this infographic on renewable energy by Carrington College which illustrates using a lot more text, but still in a fun, colorful way. Just like the visual.ly one above, they provide the code to make it easy to share/embed their infographic on your own site (And, that’s a good tip for encouraging your constituents to share too.)

Renewable Energy - Infographic

[Via: Carrington College's Renewable Energy Degree Program]


Need more convincing to give infographics a try?

The status quo approach can be a difficult life preserver to sacrifice when one is afloat in a vast, cold ocean, unsure of a new tactic.

Consider that according to Customer Magnetism an internet marketing agency, high quality infographics are 30 times more likely to be read than text articles. Social media experts will tell you that infographics in websites are way more likely to be shared than text. The growing popularity of visual content platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram pretty much confirms that people crave eye candy.

While I know better than to concur with the seemingly popular notion that no one reads anything anymore, I’d have to put on a pair of coke-bottle-thick, rose-colored glasses to believe that people will read everything we put out.


Where to start

Lest you think as a mere writer that you’d have to employ a new graphics team to use infographics, there’s plenty of inspiration on the web as well as plenty of tools for creating your own infographics.

Marketingprofs.com suggests the following for your toolkit:

Many Eyesbuilds infographics based on your data, or on public datasets.

HoHli produces charts with the flexibility to customize their look and feel.

Wordle word cloud generator. You can see an example from yours truly on the about page of this very blog.

The web is also a great place to find tips on creating the best infographics.

But before you go there, you should begin the process with a rough outline of what you want to present. Infographics should answer questions, provide compelling data, or demystify a process. And while an infographic can poke fun, the content must be researched and fact-checked. Not to mention, that you need to know your goal–which should not be simply to produce something cool.

So, that’s what I’ve learned about infographics. My next step is to gain more experience. Let me know what you’ve tried and especially any inspiring examples you create or come upon.

I’ll report back on my progress in a future blog.

I don’t know about you, but giving my audiences and me a chance to pull over to enjoy a scenic overlook sounds pretty good right about now.

Communications and Marketing: Which is What Exactly?

Here’s a confession. I’ve never fully understood the difference between communications and marketing. Or at least I struggle to come up with a useful answer in a nonprofit environment.

For a long time, I’d say prevailing wisdom in higher education was “we’re really, really good; we just need you to inform people.” Thus, when I started out in this business everyone in communication-type jobs in higher ed. was called an “information officer.”

One day in the later 90s, the HR leaders in my institution switched the information officer job classification to “communications manager.” Today most communications-related job titles, including mine, tend to name both marketing and communications. And it’s all about promoting a brand with strategic communication and marketing.

Apparently, somewhere along the way communications and marketing got married. That makes sense. It’s not like they don’t have a lot in common. And maybe they’ve been together so long now that they’ve started to look like each other?

In any case, I’ve noticed no marked improvement in most people understanding what communications or marketing jobs entail no matter how blended the two may be.

Usually when someone asks me what I do, I just flail around terms like public relations, communications, writing and editing, promotion, marketing and, even, information officer. Until the asker either loses interest or seems to comprehend something.

One heated online discussion I stumbled onto regarding the difference between marketing and communications came up with the following collective wisdom:

  1. In Neuro Lingusitic Programming terms, you cannot, NOT communicate. So everything you do is a communication of some description.
  2. Marketing on the other hand is about crafting a message to achieve a desired objective.

If we can accept that, then communication is far broader than marketing and could include the scribbles on my office white board. Even though they are not exactly brilliant or strategic.

My Office White Board

David Williamson in “Marketing and Communications in Nonprofit Organizations” by Georgetown Public Policy Institute says marketing gets no respect in the nonprofit world. He writes:

“..the marketing function masquerades under many names within nonprofit organizations—Communications, Advancement, External Affairs, Public Relations, or Brand Management — the primary objectives are pretty much the same: to define and then defend an organization’s position, and move it closer to success in its mission.“

So does it matter what you call it? And if so, is there any agreed upon, clear designation between marketing and communication? Does it make a difference if you are working in nonprofit or commercial? What do you use in your organization?