You’ve heard that Nothing in life is free, yet this magazine is free for the vast majority of readers—both in print and online. That’s only because of the continued support of our advertisers. No media brand achieves success without both a loyal audience and loyal sponsors. So this is a thank you to both groups, as well as a defense of advertising.
Note that this column wasn’t requested or reviewed by my boss, the vice president and publisher. Those who aren’t in the publishing industry might not realize that it’s traditional in both consumer and business-to-business publications for there to be a virtual wall between the editorial and business sides of a brand. In most places, that wall has developed some cracks in recent years, but at POWER, we still believe in clearly distinguishing advertising from editorial content.
Ads Benefit Readers, Including Editors
Rather than think of ads as an unwelcome intrusion into content—a common attitude when it comes to TV ads—I’d argue that ads in a trade magazine are part of the value the brand delivers. For starters, without advertising, we’d have to charge—quite a lot—to produce the content readers have come to expect from POWER. That would limit the number of people we reach, and that wouldn’t be good for anyone in the power industry, whether you are a buyer or seller of equipment, services, or electrons.
Ads also help readers learn about companies and their offerings. Even though we try to keep our audience apprised of the major stories and developments in the industry, we can’t possibly cover everything, especially in print. There are far too many components and services that are part of the power sector. Ads help spread the word about more aspects of the industry we cover, thereby playing an important informational role.
Even editors learn what’s new from ads. Yes, press releases can serve that purpose, but the visual impact of a well-executed print ad is going to capture our attention more easily than one of the hundreds of emails we get daily. On more than one occasion, something our editors have read in an ad has prompted a follow-up. Sometimes it’s because we’re reminded that a particular firm handles work with X equipment that we’re writing a technology update on. Other times we reach out to advertisers for ideas about the latest industry pain points or to supply a specific type of photo. Running an ad won’t win anyone a puff piece in our editorial pages, but it can have unexpected mutual benefits.
Print Ads Still Have Power
There’s no question that today’s advertisers have to be visible on digital platforms, but that doesn’t mean print ads have lost importance.
In the June 29–July 5, 2015, issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, STIHL—the company that makes handheld outdoor power equipment—ran a 10-page ad. Those 10 consecutive full pages began and ended with what I’d call “the story of STIHL,” while focused messages about the brand, its users, and its values ran on the pages between. What makes this particularly noteworthy is that STIHL is a large but not a huge company. It has 2,100 employees in the U.S. Both the number of pages and the quality of the creative content ensured that nobody picking up that issue could fail to notice STIHL. Part of the print ad blitz’s goal was to engage people in a social media sharing campaign, but what impressed me was how the company recognized that the best way to drive activity online was to first woo current and prospective customers in print. At POWER, we’ve offered a similar approach for individual advertisers or industry groups to highlight their value to our readers. You may have noticed, for example, a special advertising section in our July 2015 issue, produced by the Institute of Clean Air Companies.
Because they lack an expiration date, print ads have a long shelf life. How often have you gone back to a website to check an ad or take action on it? How many times have you dog-eared an ad in a print publication? Depending on when you returned to the website, the ad may no longer be visible, whereas that print ad is patiently waiting for you to remember that you saw it in a recent issue of POWER.
Every commercial website that doesn’t require a fee for access is in an ongoing evolution when it comes to handling advertising. Some Internet users attempt to short-circuit digital ads by using ad blockers. But some media companies are fighting back. In December, Forbes greeted ad-blocking app users with a message that they could not gain access to forbes.com unless they disabled blocking. The arguments and technologies for and against digital ads in all their forms are sure to continue. In the meantime, print ads can’t be blocked.
While print ads have a lot going for them, as all of us spend more time on our digital devices, being visible on those screens is increasingly important. And if you can give users a strong enough reason to click through—to download a timely report or learn something new—digital ads enable fast and easy response.
Metrics and Other Things That Matter
Do your family members love you? How do you know? Does their love matter less because you can’t reliably quantify it? Advertisers face a similar set of questions. One of the perennial arguments against traditional advertising in print and broadcast media is that you can’t measure the impact. But things have changed, and POWER has ways to track response to both digital and print promotions (contact your ad rep for more information).
I’ll close by encouraging our readers to spend some time with the ads they encounter over the next year. You never know what you might learn.
— Gail Reitenbach, PhD is POWER’s editor.