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Is there a place for print in a digital age? [Part 1]

I recently had the opportunity to speak at an event hosted by Oracle in Reading. It was organised by the Institute of Directors and BCS Elite. The event was an “Unconference” – a first for me!

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, an Unconference is a loosely structured conference emphasising the informal exchange of information and ideas between participants, rather than following a conventionally structured programme of events”. It was actually a thoroughly engaging and interactive event and I will be less daunted should I ever be invited to attend another.

This particular Unconference was entitled: “How to use communications media to get your message across” and specifically explored the business impact of technology.

Those of you that know me well know that, although I accept most opportunities to give people the benefit of my opinion, I approach most public speaking missions with the same level of fear that I would probably experience if asked to bungee jump off a small mountain. Combining this with stepping into the unknown of an “Unconference” did nothing to make me feel any better!

My contribution to Team MAXX’s blog content has been sparse over the years so I was beaten into submission by Chris our Marketing Manager and agreed to write up the key points of the presentation. He has since told me that my submission is far too long and needs to be split into a 3 part series – so that’s what you’ve got. I understand that Dickens started in a similar vein so there is hope for me yet! Perhaps someone out there may feel compelled to pass comment and we can have our own little “unconference” going on in the MAXX blog!

Faced with a room of seriously technical people from BCS and the technology sub group of the IoD, I decided to take the angle that technology couldn’t and wouldn’t replace human contact. A bit risky maybe – but a place to start….

Back in the day…..

I have now worked in Sales and Marketing for over 30 years (that’s a shocking statistic in itself!) and over the years I have seen many things come and go – some have been fads and have disappeared into the fog of time whereas others have become an integral part of our communications. A people person, I have always been reluctant to believe that any technology could ever really replace human communication. Back in the days of brick-like phones and embarrassing hair-dos, if you wanted to get in front of someone, the option was largely a choice of phone or letter – and then there was email. I remember that as a young woman working in sponsorship, I had an idea and wanted to get in touch with the CEO of a national charity – I decided to email her and lo and behold, within 2 weeks we had had our first meeting and we were working together on a project to take to Microsoft.

I’m not sure that this would happen today as we receive so many emails that it is difficult for any to really “cut through the noise”. Although it may possibly work via social media, LinkedIn particularly, I suspect today we would need to be a little bit cleverer to stand out and get noticed. But at this point in time, I realised how incredibly powerful this technology could be – I could reach out to the CEO of a national charity and talk to her directly at her own desk without any gatekeepers or formalities – with carefully chosen words, I could appeal directly to the woman and arrange to meet her. After this, I was smitten with technology and the penny dropped that technology doesn’t necessarily replace human contact – it enhances it!

Can print endure in a digital age?

Whilst we are in historic mode, there is an interesting tale here about MAXX Design. MAXX was borne, nearly 22 years ago, as a pure graphic design agency. Founded by a graphic designer, the current MD and my business partner, Dermot, there was a realisation about 10 years into the company’s trading time that the strong client base needed digital support as well as good graphic design.  I had been working with Jackie; the third owner of MAXX, in a web agency and it was at this time that Dermot approached us to form a digital arm of MAXX Design. When the two sides of the businesses merged in 2007, many people believed that in time the digital work would take over from the design element, but on the contrary, it was, and has remained, an equal split between the two sides of the business. We have added services, such as marketing, video and social media, but there is still a 50/50 split between the sales turnover for graphic design and digital work.

Why would that be?  Why has “design for print” endured, especially in this digital age?

One prime example of where this happens in MAXX is within education. We work with a number of independent schools and academies, some of which are amongst the top schools in the world, including Eton College, Westminster School and Marlborough College. There is an increasing level of automation around communication in a school – not only via the website but also in social media, e-learning and parent communication channels. Despite this, schools still need printed collateral. For a couple of years running we have spoken at the Festival of Education at Wellington College about the power of print – firstly about prospectuses and the last time about the power of a school magazine. For all the benefits of digital communications, schools still need printed materials. There is nothing that has the same power as a beautifully designed piece of print that truly captures the essence of the school and that can stay on a coffee table and be passed between parents over several months.

Print offers repeat exposure and staying power – you can pick it up and touch it – it creates a connection with the reader. There is something enduring about a beautifully printed piece. Increasingly top brands are looking at printing magazines and looking at more traditional channels to support online marketing activity. But more of that later…

Shaking it up…

As with all good things in life (or so I believe), there needs to be a perfect blend. Those of you that know me well will know that given the right occasion I appreciate a good cocktail! For me good marketing communications is rather like a cocktail – you need a blend of all the right ingredients to produce a satisfactory result. Sometimes you won’t need all the ingredients and its highly likely that you will need them in different quantities, depending on the need, but if you get it wrong, the result can either be disappointing or in extreme cases disastrous! So consider: digital, print, social, video, advertising as well as sponsorship, events and PR and more.


If you want to speak about any of these then please don’t hesitate to get in touch by calling 01635 521224 or emailing me on [email protected]. You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn!

In my next installment I take a look at branding, digital marketing and the “rennaisance of print”…

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