Press ads can still deliver the goods

Written by
Andrew Papworth
Added
October 07, 2015

A couple of decades or so ago fundraising media decisions were pretty straightforward. You used press advertising for off-the-page fundraising and for building a mailing list for following them up. You probably also used cold mailings for similar purposes and, if you were daring and had fairly big coffers, you might experiment with television too.

But it was difficult to get people to respond to TV in those days. Few people had mobile phones so the viewer would usually have to make a note of a telephone number and ring from a landline in another room later in order not to miss part of the programme being watched. Alternatively they would have to send a cheque (remember them?) to an address given at the end of the commercial and hastily scribbled down.

Having built the database of donors, then the primary option was warm mailings. Few people had computers at home and telephone marketing was relatively little used.

How very different things are today

The growth of ownership of mobile phones and their ever-increasing sophistication have transformed the opportunities. Today it’s even feasible to use posters and tube and bus cards for fundraising. If the message is potent enough you can persuade tube passengers to give there and then from the platform or while strap hanging – if there’s a signal.

Television viewers no longer have to get up to respond by phone but can give by text or online from the sofa whilst keeping half an eye and half an ear on the programme or, with a smart TV, they can even pause the programme while they make a gift if they want to give the programme their full attention.

At the same time the exponential growth of agencies offering telephone call centres, face-to-face fundraising on the street or the doorstep has provided further new opportunities. Then there are new doors opened up by all the social media and the possibilities offered by e-mail, etc.

Modern fundraisers have a much more difficult task to allocate resources than their predecessors and a more complicated task in making inter-media effectiveness comparisons. In addition, for many there is an inbuilt bias towards the new and in favour of exciting technologies. In this multi-piece jigsaw of decision-making it sometimes seems that the use of the press has been sidelined and disregarded as yesterday’s medium.

There is a deep conservatism about the ways press media are used for off-the-page fundraising as if it’s not worth giving any fresh thinking to the issue.

Whilst it’s true that newspaper and magazine print circulations are generally in decline, almost by definition the people who stick with print for their news and entertainment are those who are most at home with the medium and, possibly, less comfortable with more technologically advanced methods of communication. Indeed, properly used the press can still be extremely potent.

Marshall McLuhan, the communications philosopher, is somewhat out of fashion these days but his categorisation of media as ‘hot or cool’ according to the degree of participation involved was a useful, if sometimes confusing, insight.

With enough skill and determination you can create a very special and deep relationship with the reader through ads in print media.


The current ad shown here from the campaign by Newsworks – a consortium of national newspapers promoting the uniqueness and power of the medium – shows a woman so engrossed in reading her paper that she is oblivious of King Kong peering through the window. If in a somewhat exaggerated way, it makes the point that an advertiser with enough skill and determination can create a very special and deep relationship with the reader.

Bearing in mind the certainty of a future fundraising environment in the UK, and maybe elsewhere, which will involve much more strictly regulated and restrictive constraints on direct marketing, fundraisers are going to have to put much more effort into revitalizing their off-the-page fundraising.

This must include finding ways of making off-the-page fundraising ads in newspapers and magazines work harder and in different ways. Maybe one route would be to recognise that the readers of the Telegraph, The Times and the Sun tend to have different interests, prejudices and attitudes from those of, say, the Guardian, Independent and Mirror and that perhaps ads should be more tailored to the readerships rather than using the current one-size-fits-all approach.

About the author: Andrew Papworth

Andrew Papworth

After a long career in advertising agencies, Andrew Papworth has been freelancing as an advertising and communications planner for about two decades.

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