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    Success breeds tradition, but tradition has never guaranteed success

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    There is something special about the feel of a newspaper in your hands, a relaxing experience that cannot be replicated with the online version of the same publication – an experience that is likely to disappear in the near future. For many of the advertisers in this oldest of mass media it seems that the skills of making the medium work for them has either been lost or was never learned in the first place.

    “The time has come when advertising has in some hands reached the status of a science. It is based on fixed principles and is reasonably exact. The causes and effects have been analysed …We know what is most effective and we act on basic law.” – Scientific Advertising, Claude Hopkins 1923.

    Poor Claude would be turning over in his grave had he witnessed some of the crimes against copywriting, let alone marketing strategy that occur on a daily basis in the print media today. In fact, they occur in every media medium, but today I’m talking about professional services firms publishing announcements about their staff “making” partner or associate or a new MD taking up the reins.

    Announcing these appointments in the medium of newsprint today is pure tradition, a remnant of the “old world” type communication.

    At a certain time in history, let’s say roughly before the Great Depression of 1929, such announcements would have constituted valid tactics, before they became a tradition followed without question. It was a time when this type of “tombstone-type announcement of new partners or associates” actually achieved its objectives, albeit inadvertently.

    This time was marked by:

    • Print (newspapers) being the only mass medium.
    • Radio only starting to enter people’s homes, while most products still had truly differentiating features up until the 1960s.
    • Service providers, on the other hand, were most likely selected on personality of their people, reputation and word-of-mouth recommendations.
    • Life was typified by a small local community where everyone knew everyone else.
    • Some professions, like lawyers, were not even allowed to advertise and hence never learned some of the basic principles of competitive behaviour through differentiation.

    These advertisements of yesteryear met the objectives of promoting the firm in its local community by the so-called recognition of its newly promoted staff, hopefully explaining what was really special and different about them.

    Today this tactic is nothing more than a tradition – one that no longer makes any marketing sense and unfortunately achieves nothing more than stroking of the corporate ego.

    The question of whether professional services firms should spend money in the print media as a form of recognition for its newly appointed staff will always be a matter of debate – one that I will leave to the experts in the HR department.

    Common sense says that given a choice, most would choose a holiday, the latest gadget / lavish gift / cash bonus, instead of their company spending a couple of thousand dollars making this type of announcement.

    From a cost perspective, it makes more sense to communicate the promotion to clients, suppliers and other business partners using a more direct approach like e-mail or a letter, and celebrating with a more personal approach like a dinner at which the promoted staff could be recognised and rewarded.

    So if an announcement recognising the achievements of its staff is to be made using business press, what should a professional services firm, such as a law firm, do to maximise the return on its marketing investment? What should be its communication objectives beyond that of recognition or reward for its newly appointed partners?

    The main objective of any communication is to elicit a favourable response – a change in attitudes or behaviour of the target audience – in this case the reader of the business newspaper where the advertisement was placed. To achieve these objectives, an advertisement must do the following:

    1. Capture attention or interest.
    2. Focus on the reader and the “What’s in it for me” by talking about the benefits rather than features.
    3. Provide a compelling reason to consider your firm and your people instead of your competitors.
    4. Differentiate your firm by reinforcing your brand positioning.
    5. Have a call to action and a response device telling the reader what you want them to do next and how to do so.

    So next time your company decides to communicate in a mass medium like print, carefully examine your objectives, decide on the strategy and only then select the right tactics to deliver the optimal results.

    Gene Stark is the principal of Stark Reality a marketing consultancy that provides SMEs with simple, effective and accountable marketing solutions that increase their marketing R.O.I using brand communication disciplines and processes previously only affordable for large corporations.

    Photo: Pingu1963

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