A line of questions public relations people are asked on a regular basis is, “Can I just send my message through e-mail or Constant Contact? Do I have to spend the money to print this newsletter? Must I mail a direct mail piece? Should I buy a print ad?”

In most cases, the answer is clear — printed pieces are complemented by social media, e-mail, blogs and the Web; they are not replaced by them. We see the pendulum swinging back to the center as people come to understand there is no one panacea for communicating one’s message. How we communicate depends on two factors: our audience and our message.

Avoid Being Deleted

Think about how easy it is to delete an e-mail; ask yourself how often you will actually print a newsletter off your computer; how often does a message from an unknown source go into spam? One rule of thumb is: If you are trying to reach a new audience with a specific message or call to action, you cannot rely only on social media or e-mail blasts.

If you have a magazine or newsletter with educational content, you want your audience to take the time to read and digest, you want it to find its way into the home or office, where often even more than one person will read it.

Health care and fundraising organizations know this message well as they produce magazines giving important health information to their audiences while promoting their services and encouraging financial support from the community. These organizations know their publications have a better chance of being read if printed and mailed, and they use the publications to drive readers to their web and social media sites for more information.

There are times when e-mail newsletters work well, namely when readers deliberately subscribe to them, such as financial newsletters from advisers or news update e-mails from organizations readers belong to. Nonetheless, these organizations still have to know their audience and ask the question: Are our readers more likely to consume information on a computer regularly or read what comes in the mail?

Practical Examples

One example of the power of direct mail comes from a charter school that was opening in Baltimore City. Its marketing material needed to reach the parents of school-aged children in the city, and one of its most effective marketing tools was an oversized direct mail postcard with information about the school, open house dates and how and when to apply for admission. The material was targeted by geography and age, and the direct mail campaign was complemented by radio and print ads, as well as social media.

All of the advertising directed parents to the school’s web site for more information. Results clearly indicated that one of the major drivers of inquiries and applications came from the direct mail card.

Another charter school, this one in Washington, D.C., utilized a series of direct mail cards as well as door-to-door visits to hand out printed fliers, coupled with radio and bus advertising. In this case, direct mail and door-to-door solicitations were directed to specific wards near the school’s location. Social media also was used, as well as a series of mommy blog posts. Again, a combination of media channels was utilized to reach the appropriate audience.


Another reason for having a printed brochure or promotion piece is for when one is making a new business presentation. You want to have a leave-behind piece for people to review at their leisure and to reinforce your sales pitch. If you are at a trade fair or other event at which you are exhibiting, you want to give out a printed piece to people who stop by your booth.

Again, any printed piece should direct people to your web site for more information.

With the barrage of information that assaults our senses every day, it takes a lot to get through the clutter, and one should use as many tools available as possible. Print is certainly not dead and is still a powerful communication tool, made even more powerful when combined with electronic, Web-based and social media.

Bonnie K. Heneson is president of Bonnie Heneson Communications (www.bonnieheneson.com), a full-service public relations, advertising and marketing firm with offices in Columbia and Owings Mills. She can be reached at 410-654-0000, ext. 1.