Hey, pharma marketers: Print is still relevant, and CMI/Compas has the receipts

CMI/Compas' latest paper looks at the relevance of print media among healthcare providers and finds they are still common and trusted resources. (CMI/Compas)

Print publications may be on the way out among teenage fashionistas, but they're still a thriving resource of information for doctors. In fact, doctors actually like to read medical journals in print, a new, comprehensively sourced report finds—and they specifically seek out journal articles and studies as trusted sources of information.

The new CMI/Compas report consolidates data from multiple sources to show print pubs are still relevant as a venue for pharma marketing, thanks to their reputation as a tool for keeping up with the latest in medicine. In one Kantar study quoted, print journals ranked third with 66% of healthcare professionals listing them as important in helping to stay abreast of new medical developments. While that’s behind professional portals and colleagues, it’s still ahead of online journals, in-person product presentations and continuing medical education programs.

And it's not just the middle-aged set that likes to sit down with an actual paper-bound journal copy. The stats held true demographically, with millennial physicians consuming print content as much as their older Gen X peers, said Kyle Cooper, associate director of media at CMI/Compas.

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That’s good news for pharma marketers looking to reach those professionals through print advertising—and perhaps a wake-up call for those excessively enamored with digital channels. “While there are always new opportunities in the digital space, there are still plenty of people out there who are still highly valuing print, still highly valuing direct mail,” Cooper said in an interview. “Today when we start developing a channel mix, we want to listen to that input that we have from research and capitalize on the continuing use of print.”

Brian Cunningham, CMI/Compas VP, media, added, “Just because print seems old and digital seems new, doesn’t mean print isn’t an effective channel. It doesn’t mean you can’t think about it in new ways. New applications within the channel, new innovation in production, new targeting approaches that can keep the channel relevant and maintain the sophistication and strategy you’re using in digital.”

Ironically, print may be holding on to its power precisely because of the proliferation of online resources and apps, all seeking to grab healthcare providers' attention, CMI researchers posit. Print journals are tried-and-true brands doctors trust.

And print media continue to grow, the paper shows. Overall journal publishing revenue grew consistently by 7% each year from 2013 through 2017.

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As part of its print media studies, CMI also worked with Kantar to suss out which print ads are most effective. What they found was that bigger isn't always better. The researchers measured message awareness, retention and believability across journal advertising with eight different audiences and found none of those measures gained much when ad size increased. A small 3% to 7% gain in impact came at a cost increase of 12% to 24%. The conclusion? Smaller ads with increased frequency at a lower cost may be a more effective print strategy.

“Print is really a numbers game. Once you identify the market factors—the noise in the market, uniqueness of your product and whatever existing recall or attention you might already have if it’s not brand new—reach and frequency are really the levers that you’re going to pull to optimize a successful approach in that channel,” Cunningham said. “When spend is a factor, the only way you can do that is with a lean and mean ad size.”  

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