Print is dead? Long live print!

Print is dead? Long live print!


Emma Clements from London + Culture Calling explains why print is one of the most important tools in the box to trigger an emotional response and to make sure that your message stands out from the crowd.

Those were the days

For many arts marketers, particularly those of us who have been in this game for a few years, print is a faithful old friend. Who could forget the thrill of their first season brochure? The intoxicating smell of petroleum-based inks, pristine bundles waiting to wing their way to an eager mailing list, and the box office on standby for a deluge of bookings. Those were the days.

A leaflet rack full of leaflets.

But times have changed, and our faithful friend has fallen out of favour. The word is that print is laborious and expensive to produce; its environmental impact is worrying; and its efficacy is hard to monitor. Today, digital solutions loom large: faster, cheaper, more agile, more measurable, more sustainable.

So, have changing attitudes, new technology and the pandemic sounded the death knell for print marketing in the arts? We think not. And here’s why…


 The benefits of print in the digital age

Many benefits of print simply cannot be replicated by digital alternatives. We exist in a physical world, and our brains are hard-wired to respond to this world in a different way to digital stimuli. In a recent study by Temple University, neuroscientists found that a printed advertisement is more likely to trigger an emotional response than its digital counterpart, and we are more likely to remember printed marketing messages a week later.

The digital space is crowded and noisy – the average person is exposed to more than 10,000 online ads per day – leading to advertising fatigue and banner blindness. Research by neuromarketing expert TrueImpact has proven that it requires significantly less cognitive effort to read print as opposed to digital messaging.

Put simply, human brains prefer print.

Next let’s think about versatility. Arts organisations are awash with creativity, and vision and brand identity are strong. Couple that with quality photography and design, and you get imaginative and memorable print. A beautifully designed leaflet or poster speaks to consumers in ways digital marketing cannot, and can be shared through various channels including direct mail, door drops, handouts, venue display and poster campaigns to reach new audiences, including those who aren’t active in the digital space. You can also harness technology to complement a print campaign and boost its reach, such as adding QR codes to direct audiences to your webpage or real-time Tweeting a street handout campaign.

Print and environmental sustainability

Perhaps the most serious allegation facing print is that it is harmful to the environment and incompatible with green objectives, particularly when digital marketing is widely perceived as being cleaner and more sustainable. But the facts suggest it might not be quite so clear-cut.

Most criticism levelled at print relates to paper stock, yet sustainability has long been a cornerstone of the paper industry. Over half of European forests, from which the majority of our paper is manufactured, are certified as sustainably managed. And, contrary to popular belief, they are not shrinking – they’re growing by the equivalent of 1500 football pitches a day. These forests are the lungs of Europe, inhaling a whopping 155 million tons of carbon dioxide in the past decade and making a significant contribution to air quality across the continent.

But what of waste? Once print has served its purpose or – heaven forbid – you produce too much, it invariably ends up in the bin. Or does it? In fact, paper is reused on average 3.8 times, and the 81% recycling rate in Europe for paper and cardboard is higher than for metal, glass or plastic.

Print can form part of a sustainable marketing strategy that is both effective and cost-effective

Seeing our print in the bin triggers an emotional response. The fact that we don’t see the environmental cost of technology doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The ICT industry accounts for 2% of all greenhouse gas emissions (roughly the same as the aviation industry), which is expected to rise to 14% by 2024. The issue of electronic waste is enormous and growing fast: in 2019 it amounted to 53.6 million metric tonnes. Unlike trees, the rare earth materials used in technology are hard to recycle and irreplaceable in the natural environment.

But statistics hold little sway over a harried marketer working with a stretched budget and bound by their organisation’s green agenda. Digital marketing is here to stay – and we love it – but it’s important to remember that print isn’t the environmental liability it’s portrayed as, and can form part of a sustainable marketing strategy that is both effective and cost-effective if you remember these top tips:

  • Do you really need a season brochure? Perhaps a leaflet that directs audiences to your website could be just as effective. And other formats – postcards, bookmarks, beer mats – just beg to be picked up and reused.
  • Less is often more. With print display in venues, the opportunity-to-see or ‘impression’ is as important as pick-up (or click-through).
  • Geo-demographic segmentation systems, such as The Audience Agency’s Audience Spectrum, allow print campaigns to reach the right audiences, including those who aren’t active online.
  • Engage a printer that prioritises sustainable practice and uses soy or vegetable-based inks, and energy-efficient printing.
  • Work with a distribution company that runs an electric fleet and shows commitment to minimising waste.
  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification shows that paper has come from sustainably managed forests or recycled sources.
  • Print-on-demand. With the fast turnaround offered by many printers, you can save money and reduce waste by optimising your quantities based on immediate requirements.

A busy street with a smiling woman taking a leaflet from a man wearing a London Calling T-shirt.

The team at London+Culture Calling has been around for a while. We’ve embraced the shift towards digital with the launch of our consumer website and a range of new services to grow audiences online. We’ve learned that combining the complementary strengths of print AND digital marketing is the best way to reach a wider audience, reinforce your brand identity and engage with potential consumers.

Visit our B2B website at to find out more.

Rebecca (print expert) and Gabriella (digital guru) will be at the AMA Conference in Leeds in July (2023) and would love to chat about all things print and digital.

Emma Clements

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Resource type: Articles | Published: 2023