The Shifting Role of Print

Print media has been around for decades and was once the primary source of advertising for marketers, especially in certain industries. In the world of pharma, print is a trusted and effective channel to reach Healthcare Professionals (HCPs) in the right place, at the right time. Print media was, and still is, the most commonly used method of communicating prescription drugs and/or medical devices to key HCPs, even with the rise of digital media. While it is hasn’t become obsolete, print advertising has been overshadowed by digital advertising opportunities.

Print is a safe channel, attractive to most marketers within the pharmaceutical industry – the same industry that is lightyears behind other categories, since marketers must abide by the rules set forth by regulatory teams and most importantly, the FDA. It’s a trusted medium by HCPs and provides proven credibility that pharma brand managers look for. In addition to being compliance-friendly, print also offers pharma advertisers more creative liberty, at least for the industry. With the ability to secure premium positions and special units, print allows more space for actual ad content compared to other channels. Additionally, there is a longer shelf life for print media, as medical journals can be passed along from person to person, increasing an ad’s exposure and longevity. Print can also serve a strategic role of competitive blunting, providing an opportunity for a brand to compete in the space.

As noted above, the pharmaceutical industry is often a few steps behind other advertising categories; however, digital media is becoming much more accessible to pharmaceutical marketers, and brand teams are becoming more comfortable with the channel. Digital media has the appeal that print lacks, pushing boundaries and diversifying the brand from their competition. In addition, digital media is more cost-efficient than traditional media channels, especially print, where a pharmaceutical brand can require anywhere from 4-18 ad pages to accommodate all the claims; the cost ultimately becomes a deterrence. This has resulted in brand teams second guessing their traditional print media plans and strategies. Most importantly, digital media is measurable and engaging. Time after time, pharmaceutical marketers struggle with measuring the impact of print, whereas digital media can be measured, and linked to ROI and prescription lift.

Despite the strong historical role of print in pharmaceutical advertising, especially when targeting physicians, there is a shift happening in the marketplace. There’s a digital shake up occurring, which has ripple effects into how pharmaceutical companies are promoting their brands to the physician target. Print still has the stigma of catering to an older demographic, but when the age of your target audience is not a factor, like in pharma, you must weigh different dynamics to determine what role print will play in the media mix – the media consumption habits of your target, media budget, creative availability, ROI goals, etc.

While measurement is the key catalyst in determining whether a brand chooses to invest in print or digital advertising, marketers are acknowledging that both channels play a role in any marketing agenda. They complement each other, not excluding other media channels, depending on the key performance indicators (KPIs) and strategy. Both should still be considered in the media mix and it may just be matter of prioritizing one over the other.

By: Lynnsey Rijos and Amanda Fiore

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