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How to take advantage of print media while it still exists

For many reasons, print media has descended into obscurity, and evolved into digital, but its death is still far off. In the meantime, there are smart ways to use print media to your advantage.



print media

print media

The decline of print media

We’ve been predicting the death of print media for years, as Newsweek becomes the latest print casualty, but like most entrenched industries, it will always take way longer than anyone would expect. Despite Priceline and Kayak, there are still travel agents, albeit less of them. And print will go on in some form because in some cases, it’s still a useful way to distribute information.

We’ve seen the demise of the medium predicted as publishers cannibalized their own revenues by giving away all their content online for free with the hopes of selling banner ads. We saw a race to the bottom with banner inventory prices that was further ballooned by the rise of bloggers who, without the same barriers to entry as printing, were able to go toe to toe with some of the largest publications in the world. But forget large bloggers – there are just… so many bloggers that even if on average a blog gets 50 hits a month, times a million blogs, that’s still 50 million eyeballs the big players are missing.

When people argue against the end of print, you have to wonder if they somehow had access to hundreds of millions of dollars in investment capital, what they’d think if newspapers never existed and someone came to them with the following idea to invest in:

“Newspaper Business Plan”

“Reading the news online is great, but sometimes we miss a more artistic and tactile approach. Our plan is to take yesterday’s news, quickly create a beautiful “layout” with computer software and designers working day and night, then print millions of copies overnight in a huge printing plant using millions of dollars in equipment. We’ll then send these “newspapers” to distribution points all around the city. From there, we will utilize an army thirteen-year-old boys on bicycles who will distribute the newspapers door to door in their neighborhood after school in exchange for gratuities from our customers so they can go buy Topps baseball cards, Silly String, and Now-N-Laters. And we’ll support the whole thing with advertising. We think printing last week’s help wanted ads and apartment listings will be a surefire revenue driver!”

Why print media is destined to die

Bananapants, right? But that’s what exists. And that’s why its death is inevitable, because it’s essentially a zombie industry whose legacy allows it to borrow against its future, a future that’s dwindling faster than Tim Tebow’s playoff hopes.

Why has the death of print taken so long? While technology allowed for the dissemination of the same information print offered, only faster and for free, the same technology had not caught up to the same aesthetic and user experience that readers are used to in print. We still want a beautiful layout, or even a layout that looks like David Carson went on a meth binge. But being limited to a handful of fonts and fairly straightforward layouts most definitely curtailed online media’s ability to compete. Even though it’s faster and more timely to get information online, we still love to turn pages.

The tablets changed all that. Slowly, we’re seeing digital versions of publications that let us flip through the pages like a magazine or newspaper that have not only the same beautiful design as a printed piece, but even embed video and animations in a way that doesn’t seem weird. We now live in the future. It’s only a matter of time before everyone catches up.

The fudging of distribution numbers

Print is further hampered by the fact that, as opposed to highly trackable and audible online media, for its entire existence, print’s numbers were, well, bullshit.

The standard readership numbers went something like “Well, so we printed 100,000 copies and sent them to 100,000 homes. We figure each home has 8 people living in them, plus, you know 5% of homes were burglarized by second time offenders who had literacy training in prison, and our cousin had a plumbing problem so you know that whole work crew was in his house last week, therefore, if everyone who came within 50 feet of the publication dropped everything and read it cover-to-cover, then clearly at least 4 million people read it (if not like 8 or even 30 million on a good day!) and we have a feeling because of all the pretty colors and its proximity to the last 1000 words of our hard-hitting expose on the 100% rise in toothpick-related fatalities from 1 to 2 in the past year, they especially paid attention to your 1/4 page ad on page 168. Did we mention sometimes after people throw the publication out, the garbage collectors read it on their break?”

Print is on the way out. But you can still take advantage of it as a marketer.

Print on the long tail

Forget buying a full page ad in the New York Times. Media rates at that level are determined more by supply and demand than what their real ROI is going to be to an advertiser. What I’m talking about is local newspapers, college newspapers, anything with a circulation below 10,000 or so. Trying to build a new brand with a broad target market on a budget? As opposed to a major publication, who may not return your phone call even if you do have a check for $50,000, that same money could be spent to advertise in 50-100 small publications and actually reach more people.

Of course, in the digital age, how do we translate our print to online effectively? Creating brand awareness is great. But if you’re used to the instant gratification of seeing your analytics pop up in real time, the glacial speed in which print moves can be quite frustrating.

Bridges to digital

• Contests: Using print as a way to supplement a contest being held via social media is a great way to get more people involved. The key here is the “carrot.” It makes no sense to spend $50,000 to give away a $50 gift card or 10% off the purchase of your mediocre product. Be imaginative with the prizing. Find something bespoke on Etsy made by someone who has a great following and leverage their social audience as well. Buy something bizarre on eBay. Make something compelling enough that I’m going to grab my phone and find your contest right now, while I’m looking at the ad. And sure, use a QR code if you must for tracking, but remember that for most of us, QR codes are ugly and make us throw up in our mouth a little.

• Experiential and Events: Hold some sort of special event in a local market that requires an online RSVP. Or use it to announce that your experiential tour van is going to give away free samples at a set time and place and anyone who pre-registers online gets a special incentive. Remember, when we use the long tail print above, you’re in local and college newspapers – people tend to actually pay more attention if you’re taking about something going on in their community. For example…

• Making a difference in the local community is a great way to translate print to digital. You can pay Facebook $1 per like by buying ads, or you could donate a dollar to the local homeless shelter or community garden, or even let people vote on what difference they want made in their community. Even if it’s used to grow Austin weird.

Enjoy it while you can

Once your have your print pointing to digital, you can consider a feedback loop. Follow up the print with ads featuring photos of the event you held, pointing to a microsite where the people who attended can download them. Update it with news on the progress of the community activation, so people can see that you did use the funds to have 3D Chalk Dude draw the rival school’s mascot being sucked into the fiery pits of hell.

As print becomes less popular, ad rates will continue to fall. It won’t last forever, but smartly integrating print into your digital is something you can enjoy while you can.

Marc Lefton is a creative director and tech entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience. He's a partner in Digikea Digital based in NYC and Gainesville, Florida.

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  1. agbenn

    December 26, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Great article, the only thing missing is the monitization of the online space, it’s expensive for online publishing too and just gets more expensive every year. Dev costs, hosting costs, passed on cost of bandwidth we used to get for free because we were smaller publications, and the overhead of content production in general, web editors, staff and the like. This notion that paying penny ad rates on a niche site is bullshit in and of itself. It ain’t going to happen. What’s it cost to run a television ad that’s barely targeted? It should be equal to the ad spend on many online publications but it isn’t even an nth of that. No, my prediction, is the web is going to get even more expensive, and even the big online publishers will suffer as long as companies like google continue to drive down the cpc or cpm, demand has a price, and pretty soon, those eyeballs will be paying for it – it’s just a matter of them catching up to reality – business cost money no matter it’s location.

    • halffiction

      December 27, 2012 at 7:59 pm

      Thanks, Benn – yes it’s not only rising costs on your end, the driving down of CPMs by Google, etc. but supply/demand are affected by taste and lack thereof. I’m in the business of making creative and beautiful ads which are expensive to produce and require talented people to execute, much like your business. However, someone who has a cousin with a stolen copy of photoshop could easily make a mockery of what we do both from a design and copy aesthetic all the way down to the technical details of production and a client with poor taste will just see the cost savings. In an online publication’s case, the oversupply is coming from many more directions, from content mills and SEO spammers, people posting cat photos on Facebook, etc.

  2. JoeLoomer

    December 27, 2012 at 7:42 am

    Benn hit the nail on the head. I thoroughly enjoyed the article, but at least in my small neck of the woods, the only local paper charges similar fees for online ads as for print, even increasing their fees as their distribution numbers decline (thereby helping the snowball down the hill).

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

    • halffiction

      December 27, 2012 at 8:01 pm

      That definitely makes sense, when I lived in a small town I saw the local paper doing the same thing. Local advertisers are often not savvy about what online stats are meaningful.

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Business Marketing

5 ways voice is changing the SEO game

(TECH NEWS) As voice assistants take over our lives, you may worry how your SEO fares in this new, uncharted territory. Let’s discuss.



voice and SEO

SEO is a moving target. The standards change constantly so, despite years of experience, many web designers struggle to meet all the optimization guidelines. How, then, can any business confidently approach the web design process? It starts with recognizing those evolving norms, the newest of which is voice search.

Why Voice Search Matters

For years, the dominant SEO rule has been mobile first. The introduction of voice recognition systems, like Siri and Alexa, to smartphones has dramatically changed how we interact with devices. In fact, 20% of Google searches are voice searches with that number expected to grow rapidly over the next few months. Businesses and web designers, then, need to make sure their sites are voice ready if they want to stay relevant. Though the sites may stay the same visually, they need to gain a new edge functionally.

From The Ground Up

Modifying your website to support voice search isn’t as simple as many other SEO transitions, but if you take a ground up approach to the process, you’ll be able to reshape your website around those changes. Still, you’ll need help to do this correctly. When adapting your website for voice, SEO consultant Aaron Rains recommends hiring an expert for a full site audit and analysis to maintain your page ranking. You don’t want your page to take a rankings hit because you’re trying to keep up with the trends.

Expanding Your Device Options

In addition to its advantages from a mobile perspective, making the move to voice search also means expanding your site’s horizons by making it more accessible to new devices, particularly the smart home speakers that are gaining in popularity. Users are particularly comfortable with these devices because they rely on natural speech patterns rather than half-formed search terms. Children growing up with these smart speakers in their homes seem to view them as part of the family and will be native voice search users as they grow.

Snippets For Search

Part of updating your website for speech is optimizing the content to match changing search patterns. One of the key ways to do this is through the use of featured snippets.

Featured snippets are designed to help put your website in the #0 spot – the top ranking. To do that, you’ll want to put the answers to your most popular queries in the first few sentences on your page. This is especially for purchasing and local search since people frequently use voice search to find local businesses. If you can optimize for the most important snippets early on, you’ll be way ahead on the competition and have a greater ROI.

Rebuild and Reassess

After modifying your website for voice, you may find your rankings initially drop. That’s because you need to request your site be re-indexed. Otherwise, search engines won’t be able to match queries with your new site content. Re-indexing will put all of your new information into effect and make it possible for users to search using the featured snippets. Re-indexing your site will also help you ensure that you haven’t interfered with the crawl-ability of your site.

Experts expect half of all searches to be voice-driven by 2020, but since 50% of users with voice search access already use it at least occasionally, now is the time to act. Even if many users are still wary of voice search, you can’t afford to fall behind. Those users will still be able to rely on traditional text search mechanisms, but that won’t help voice enthusiasts. If you lose those early adopters now, they might not come back when you’ve caught up with the voice search revolution.

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Business Marketing

How to use offline marketing to your advantage in a digital world

(BUSINESS) We often become obsessed with new marketing strategies, favoring the internet over some traditional methods that continue to drive traffic timelessly.



offline marketing open sign for small business

Everywhere you look, people want to talk about digital marketing. In fact, if you don’t have a digital marketing strategy in today’s business world, you’re not going to last long. But just because digital marketing is popular, don’t assume that offline marketing no longer yields value.

When used together, these strategies can produce significant returns.

“Some people will argue that traditional marketing is dead, but there are several benefits to including offline advertising in your overall marketing campaign,” sales expert Larry Myler admits. “Combining both offline and online campaigns can help boost your brand’s visibility, and help it stand out amongst competitors who may be busy flooding the digital space.”

How do you use offline marketing in a manner that’s both cost-effective and high in exposure? While your business will dictate how you should proceed, here are a few offline marketing methods that still return considerable value in today’s marketplace.

1. Yard signs

When most people think about yard signs, their minds immediately go to political signs that you see posted everywhere during campaign season. However, yard signs have a lot more utility and value beyond campaigning. They’re actually an extremely cost-effective form of offline advertising.

The great thing about yard signs is that you can print your own custom designs for just dollars and, when properly stored, they last for years. They’re also free to place, assuming you have access to property where it’s legal to advertise. This makes them a practical addition to a low-budget marketing campaign.

2. Billboards

The fact that you notice billboards when driving down an interstate or highway is a testament to the reality that other people are also being exposed to these valuable advertisements. If you’ve never considered implementing billboards into your marketing strategy, now’s a good time to think about it.

With billboard advertising, you have to be really careful with design, structure, and execution. “Considering we’re on the move when we read billboards, we don’t have a lot of time to take them in. Six seconds has been touted as the industry average for reading a billboard,” copywriter Paul Suggett explains. “So, around six words is all you should use to get the message across.”

3. Promotional giveaways

It’s the tangible nature of physical marketing that makes it so valuable. Yard signs and billboards are great, but make sure you’re also taking advantage of promotional giveaways as a way of getting something into the hands of your customers.

Promotional giveaways, no matter how simple, generally produce a healthy return on investment. They increase brand awareness and recall, while giving customers positive associations with your brand. (Who doesn’t love getting something for free?)

4. Local event sponsorships

One aspect of offline marketing businesses frequently forget about is local event sponsorships. These sponsorships are usually cost-effective and tend to offer great returns in terms of audience engagement.

Local event sponsorships can usually be found simply by checking the calendar of events in your city. Any time there’s a public event, farmer’s market, parade, sporting event, concert, or fundraiser, there’s an opportunity for you to get your name out there. Look for events where you feel like your target audience is most likely to attend.

Offline marketing is anything but dead.

If your goal is to stand out in a crowded marketplace where all your competitors are investing heavily in social media, SEO, PPC advertising, and blogging, then it’s certainly worth supplementing your existing digital strategy with traditional offline marketing methods that reach your audience at multiple touchpoints.

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Business Marketing

The science behind using pictures of people in marketing to convert more leads

(MARKETING) People fear using their picture in social networking profiles, but we make the case not only for using pictures of yourself, but of scrapping stock graphics for photos of people that studies show improve conversion rates in marketing.



photos-of-people in marketing

To avatar or not to avatar?

After all of these years of people using the web, the debate continues about whether or not people should use their headshots as their profile pictures and avatars on their blogs and their social networks. Many people are uncomfortable with the way they look in photos, and some are never satisfied with their picture, so they settle for their company logo, a cartoon image, or a random photo to share something about who they are. While some believe the argument is subjective, we would argue otherwise.

It is advisable to use a photo of yourself as your profile picture wherever you go, no matter how unsatisfied you are and how uncomfortable. There are many reasons from making it easier to connect with people offline after talking online, to giving people a better way to connect with you, but a personal side has become expected on social networks and blogs, making a profile picture culturally mandatory.

Throw culture out of the window

So let’s say you’re still uncomfortable advertising your face. I personally hate every picture of me taken since I was 11 and had a bad perm, I get it. Profile pictures can send some people into full fledged panic, and at that point, who cares if web culture dictates a photo?

You should, and here’s why… science.

Science? Yep. Any parent knows intuitively, and scientists have studied for years that babies love pictures of other babies, and part of socializing a child is giving them books with pictures of other babies to connect with, learn from, and see other ethnicities. Babies love looking at other babies, it helps them connect and learn, and believe it or not, many studies show that we don’t evolve past that point in our lives, so, adults love looking at other adults.

More science

If that isn’t enough to convince you to use a profile picture, a recent study shows that a website’s conversion rate can be skyrocketed by using human faces. According to, using human faces “get your prospects to focus more and this causes them to draw towards a common point of interest. It doesn’t get more real than that.”

The company cites an A/B test on, an online art shop, which presented paintings from artists on their homepage, and during testing, they swapped out the photos of the paintings with photos of the artists hoping to increase user engagement. KISSmetrics said, “Making this small but relevant change sent their conversion rate through the roof – something they didn’t expect. Their site experienced a whopping 95% increase in conversions!.”

Reading between the lines

Using a photo in your profile pictures is important, it allows people to connect with you, just like babies connect with other babies through photos, and website viewers are converted by human photos. But, read between the lines here – using photos of people in marketing is a concept as old as the idea of marketing, and your using people in your blog photos and marketing can improve your conversion over outdated stock graphics. There are legal ways to obtain photos of people (through creative commons), and using photos of your own can have the most meaningful impact.

Whether you’re nervous to share your face with the world or not, web culture dictates that you should and studies show that a percentage of people distrust social networkers without a face shot. Independent of all of that, conversion rates improve when people see other people, as it is easier to connect with over stock graphics or abstract images, so take a leap of faith and put your picture out there, and while you’re at it, try to find ways of using photos of humans in your marketing and blogs.

Just remember – babies love looking at pictures of babies, and we’re all just babies when you boil it down.

This story originally ran here on March 6, 2012.

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