The old media are supposed to be dead but some people apparently haven’t gotten the memo.
That’s what I concluded a few weeks ago, as I made a last-minute dash around the Princeton Chamber of Commerce’s annual business showcase at the Westin Hotel. As I worked the crowd I stumbled across two exhibits featuring some new wrinkles in some very old media — print was one of them, as you might have guessed, and the other, as you might not have guessed, was the old-fashioned decal.
Let’s take print first. As we at U.S. 1 approach our 26th anniversary next week, I think back to our beginnings — even in 1984 print was considered a dinosaur and the audacious thing about our start-up was that it represented one more dinosaur at the trough of potential advertisers.
Back then the trough grew to support more media than anyone guessed was possible. But now the trough has been split in two — part of it has to support print, part has to support online media. Print is the one ready to die, supposedly, but there at the chamber showcase was, drum roll, please, yet another new entry in the print field: Princeton Echo, a free monthly newspaper published by the Community News Service, based at 2 Princess Road in Lawrenceville.
In an introductory letter publisher Jamie Griswold writes that Princeton Echo represents “hyperlocal” coverage and its staff “is always out and about looking for news, photographs, and feature stories.” That’s what publishers always say. What an editor might note is that the Echo is really “out and about” for advertisers. You will see no municipal news and only a smattering of features when the Echo arrives in your mailbox. But you will see lots of ads. If I were running one of the community papers already serving Princeton Borough and Township I wouldn’t be too worried. The Echo may be a greater competitor to the bimonthly Clipper magazine of discount coupons.
The more interesting angle to this story is the persistence of print, the dinosaur that refuses to die. Jamie Griswold first came onto our radar a decade ago, when he started another new business in an improbable environment — a coffeehouse in Trenton called Cafe Ole. Griswold, a 1990 Penn State graduate who had dabbled in business before starting the coffeehouse, broadened his business scope, starting a newspaper, the Trenton Downtowner.
The newspaper business turned out to have more of a future for Griswold than the coffeehouse (which he sold seven years ago and which since has fallen on hard times). The Downtowner led to the Ewing Observer and then to other monthly papers in Lawrence, Hamilton, Robbinsville, and Hopewell, in addition to the new one in Princeton. Combined circulation: 122,000.
Now about those decals. I just discovered the power of decals a few years ago when we were ordering new sidewalk newsboxes for U.S. 1. The cost of getting plain white boxes adorned with multi-colored logos has increased more quickly than the cost of the steel boxes themselves. Enter old-fashioned decals, such as the ones we purchased for our boxes from FastSigns at 2901 Route 1 South in Lawrenceville. You can buy as many as you need, and you can change them if you come up with a new design.
And now the decal has an online capability, based on the “quick response” or QR codes that are showing up in the print media. The QR code is a graphic image that a smart phone camera with a QR reader app can photograph and convert into a link to a particular URL. You can place a QR code in a print ad (to link a reader to a website or a YouTube video clip, for example), or in a retail store window or, as FastSigns demonstrated at the Chamber showcase, onto a decal.
The decals on U.S. 1’s newsboxes all ask “What’s Happening Today in Princeton NJ?” You can get the answer to that question by taking a paper out of the box and reading it. Or, if we had a QR symbol on that decal, we could direct smart phone users directly to the listing of the current day’s events on our website. But couldn’t the pedestrian on Nassau Street just type our URL into his browser and click through to the current day’s calendar? Of course, but why make someone type when they can just point and click?
For us in the media it is at once a brave new world and a brave old world. As we pack our websites with new information every day, post on our Facebook pages, and share our daily Tweets, we also need to keep our eyes on the legacy products, from what comes off the press at our Philadelphia printer to what goes on the newsboxes on Nassau Street.
This Wednesday night, October 27, I am moderating a New Jersey CAMA discussion on “Communicating in a Web 2.0 World,” featuring veteran PR executive Robert Dilenschneider, whose latest book is on “Leveraging PR in the Digital World.”
Writes Dilenschneider: “Even in this Internet era, there are still televisions, telephones, magazines, newspapers, trade publications, forums for speeches, direct mail, sales calls, flyers on our cars, and point of purchase displays.
“The challenge is to integrate those old-style types of media with digital technology in ways that enable them to reinforce each other. This is not easy.” Agreed.