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Friday, June 15, 2012

A Passionate Case for Print

I have a friend whom I have known for some 38 years. Early in my career when I was struggling, he was always very kind and encouraging to me. He went on to become one of America’s foremost media strategists.  Over the last few years, he has been a Media Realism reader and frequently writes to me directly with some very trenchant observations. Recently, he sent me an e-mail suggesting that I consider writing a piece on media accountability and especially emphasizing how magazines still make sense in the world of 2012 media.

With his permission here are his comments:

“It seems to me that people in media are now facing a number of challenges.  A recording system that can wipe out commercials!  General Motors saying that Facebook and social media do not work.  We have all kinds of burgeoning media forms that buyers are being asked to support with no proof of anything including that stuff actually ran as ordered.  I frankly am surprised that advertisers are being so gullible as to accept somebody's so called great idea and give them money without any kind of proof of performance.  Is no one else concerned about this?”

“Meanwhile, we do have one medium whose feet keep being held to the fire -- print.  We have several services giving us their audience numbers.  We have an audit bureau that is checking that every single copy they claim to have sold is actually being sold.  Buyers are trying to squeeze every last penny out of them in negotiations.  We even have a way (through Starch) to tell how effective their advertising is.  And they are being treated like the orphan that was left on the doorstep on Xmas eve.  Yet, as far as I can see, it is the only medium out there that is actually telling us about the quality of their audience and can show us the ad actually ran and tell us something about its performance.  Perhaps we as media buyers should take another look at the world of print.  Maybe it should be the base buy for every campaign since we know whom it reaches and we know that it reaches.  No one else can make that offer to an advertiser.  By making print the very base of each media buy you now have a solid foundation.  It's not sexy and it's not high tech, but 2 x 4's on a concrete slab is not very sexy nor high tech either, but it provides a solid foundation upon which to build a house.  So perhaps an article can be written on rethinking the role of print on our media plan.  The foundation of a media plan.”

My friend raises some issues that are rarely addressed. Some colleagues from other media types weighed in with similar concerns. A long time radio hand e-mailed me the following: “Twenty years ago, the young planners at small and mid-sized shops did extensive rotation analyses of buys placed on our station. They kept us on our toes at all times. Today, if the number of spots and dollars match, we rarely hear from anyone. A dishonest broadcaster could rob people blind. I know that many media teams are understaffed but few are doing due diligence anymore.” A cable sports pro tells a similar tale. He writes, “When I started if I missed a spot in a game my phone rang off the hook. Now, I usually call the buyer to tell them of our problems. In zoned buys in big markets, I don’t believe that anyone is checking the patchwork quilt of spots and where they are running. I know that the dollar value is very low in many cases but some people are not doing their jobs.”

In the digital world, keeping track is getting better and pricing is more realistic. When it started, some things were way over priced while others way underpriced. If you pay on a cost per click or other metric, you have some protection. But, there has to be some real issues with ad networks that give you tons of exposure opportunities but are they the right people being reached?

Print has a business model that is problematic. A dozen years from now many titles will have gone 100% online to survive. The issue that my friend has raised about accountability is a profound one. Over the short and intermediate term, print may make a lot more sense than many see right now. What do you think?

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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