The printed media – how to make traditional resources work for your business

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

For many years, printed media, including newspapers, Yellow Pages directories, brochures, fliers and printed newsletters represented some of the most cost-effective resources available for construction industry marketers. Print still has its place, but you need to be thoughtful and careful about what you do.

The Yellow Pages decline

In less than a decade, the Yellow Pages – once a powerful form of directory marketing – have virtually disappeared from the scene, replaced largely by Google. Printed directories (especially common for trade associations and community groups) still have a place in the scene, though most people nowadays simply go to the association’s website and seek out an online version of the directory.

Contractors and AEC professionals should look at the Yellow Pages story as an example of how fast things can change when technological change disrupts markets and business practices.

Newspapers and magazines

In most markets, conventional daily newspapers are suffering as advertisers and readers disappear to online media. Some specialized magazines remain effective because of their long shelf life and highly focused demographics. If the magazine relates directly to your market, you may find effective.

One challenge with print media advertising (outside of daily publications) is the long lead time between placing your advertising and seeing results. You also need multiple impressions to achieve results.

The best strategy with print media advertising is to speak with your current clients and see which media they read, and consider important in their lives. This can vary by market – in some areas, glossy magazines really work well; in others, they don’t.

(Ontario Construction News is an exceptional example of how “old” media can adapt to new technologies. It is a newspaper, but it doesn’t need to be printed on newsprint or distributed by mail to qualify to publish legal notices under current regulations.)

Business to business and trade publications

If you are seeking to sell to other businesses, (for example you are a commercial contractor) should you advertise in these media? The key to effective advertising in the trade press is to co-ordinate it with other marketing activities and initiatives in co-operation with the trade journal publisher.

For example, you may be able to negotiate editorial placements or publicity for your business, a position on their website, some e-mail marketing support from the publisher, guidance and advice on trade shows, and other services. A well-connected trade magazine/newspaper publisher will know where the opportunities are within the relevant industry, and can direct you within your market.

In other words, the value of advertising in the trade press is much more than the physical insertion order and any results you may achieve from your advertising. If you feel you are getting rote treatment from a sales rep, you should seek someone more senior in the publishing organization for advice.

Your business cards

Yes, this is a basic marketing tool, and you should have some. You can make your cards stand out – marketing guru Jeffrey Gitomer for example, hands out coins instead of cards – and the business card can convey an effective first impression and make it easy for people to contact you.

Some authorities say that do-it-yourself quick-printed cards don’t convey a very professional image, but they are probably quite adequate if you are a small contractor or sub-trade. You won’t drain your budget by spending a little more on higher quality cards.

Of course, include your contact phones, emails, and website information on the cards.

Should you hand out or mass distribute your cards to everyone, or simply give them when requested or when you are actually engaged in business? The answer depends in part on the nature of your business. Most of the time, if you hand out business cards widely, you will achieve little direct response. Maybe you should buy some Google keywords instead.

Brochures and fliers

Some marketers spend hours and weeks trying to get their brochure just right. And, yes, there are right ways to do these things, and not so right ways. But it is questionable whether the effort you spend on this sort of work really will pay off in significant additional business.

Door-hangers and fliers may work in certain circumstances; again, check with non-competing businesses in other markets, or with your current and previous clients, and learn what they find effective.

Direct mail and printed newsletters

Direct mail is either addressed or unaddressed – unaddressed is of course cheaper, and you can focus on specific neighbourhoods, but your letters are very likely to find their way into the trash. Addressed direct mail may be more effective, but you will want to consider how much response you should expect – usually direct response advertising, unless you have an established relationship, will result in less than two to three per cent response rates.

In our case, direct mail has proven to be extremely effective in developing the market for the legal notice ads published in Ontario Construction News. We’ve been tracking the response – and so far more than 50 per cent of our new clients have arisen from a simple set of letters we’ve sent to contractors’ office managers. We can reach the highly specific group of people who otherwise wouldn’t know about us and offer compelling value, which leads to much repeat business.

Letters and printed newsletters for established clients or people with whom you wish to maintain a relationship may be cost-effective. The biggest challenge is maintaining discipline – you need to publish your newsletters on a reliable schedule, and you may not be able to measure results right away.

Colour, paper stock, copies, distribution and more

Printed media includes many variables; you can print on high quality paper; or the cheapest stock available, you can print one or two copies, or many thousand. Generally, I believe it is easy to think too much about these details – your main concern should be who is receiving your message, how often you want these individuals to receive it, their demographics, and the nature of your service.

Don’t agonize over the details; use stock layout services or contract with designers and publishers familiar with the industry. Remember that most office photocopiers now can produce reasonably high quality colour images at a low per-copy price – you won’t want to use this to produce a slick brochure, but you may not need that for most audiences.

The issue is less whether the media you use, than the message you convey – and this relates to your clients’ interests and priorities.

This text is excerpted from Mark Buckshon’s  Construction Marketing Ideas: Practical Strategies and Resources to Attract and Retain Clients for Your Architectural, Engineering or Construction Business, which is available at Amazon.ca or through the Construction Marketing ideas blog.

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