Pity the poor print publication. The popularity of print of all types appears to be in freefall.

Only 11 percent of marketers expect to increase their print ad budget over the next 12 months, while 32 percent expect to cut print ad budgets, according to the Association of Business Information & Media Companies. Many companies that once put out print publications for thought leadership and customer retention have moved to digital only versions. For example, CA cancelled the print version of its externally facing Smart Enterprise publication and has moved to a strictly online publication in partnership with Wired Magazine.

The reasons for this move are clear. Physically publishing a print magazine and sending it out using the postal service is far more expensive than digital distribution. It’s also harder to determine ROI. While you may be able to track circulation figures and response to individual ads —tracking print results will never be as sophisticated as the simplest online tracking capabilities that instantly show you how many people read an article, liked it, and passed it on.

Nonetheless, print publications are not without their advocates. The Association of Business Information & Media Company’s Research found that 96 percent of readers peruse both print magazines and websites. And while readers turn to online publications more frequently—73 percent use websites at least weekly and 67 percent read e-newsletters at least weekly—print publications still made it into the top three channels. Indeed, 45 percent of respondents report that they consult magazines at least once a week.

The savviest marketers then are not abandoning print. Rather, they’re using it strategically. As Michael DiLeva, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Bentley Systems noted, “Print is still important. The key is knowing your audience. We’re seeing mass customization. Different people consume content in different ways. We produce engineering software. Engineers may look at video, but they also want written long-form content that’s more outcome oriented.”

When companies publish their own print publications, they reap numerous qualitative benefits that nonetheless directly support sales.

Providing An Entrée To Decision Makers

Articles, particularly those in a company’s print publication can serve as a way to get sales reps in front of high-level executives. Loni Frazita, a marketing manager based in Long Island, New York, found hat, when working with a previous client, the company’s sales force would have a relationship at a manager and director level, but might have trouble getting in to see the VP or CIO level of decision maker. Sending a reporter to interview that high- level decision maker for a trend article could open doors.

“Once the article came out, we had a relationship with them,” said Frazita, “The article acted as an icebreaker and allowed us to start a conversation. The sales rep could call and ask if they could drop off the magazine. By then, the customer was often more willing to listen.”

Lining Up Customer References

Most companies find that customer success stories are among the most valuable pieces of content they can produce. But it’s not uncommon for the sales reps handling the accounts to fiercely guard access to their customers. Reps typically fear that asking the customer to participate in a success story will compromise their ability to renew the customer’s contract or upsell them on additional products or services.

Esri, the geomapping company, has used print publications to help line up elusive customer success stories.

“There can be trepidation,” said Jesse Theodore, Communications Manager at Esri. “One of the greatest ways I can get buy in from the sales team to allow us to approach contacts for customer success stories is to show them an example in a print publication. I can then say, this is what we want to do for your customers. The printed stories are very compelling. The light goes on in their eyes. It does a lot to build bridges and assuage concerns. This happens much more with a print article than a PDF. People just get it.”

Building Strong Relationships With Prospects And Customers

Esri still publishes several publications that have both print and online versions. One magazine, Arcnews, reaches more than 750,000 people and talks about the what and why of geomapping. Another publication, ArcUser, maintains a circulation of 500,000 people and talks about the company’s products and how to get the most out of them. They also publish 8-12 page newsletters for various industries.

The company is convinced that the print publications provide that special something that helps cement relationships with customers and prospects. Said Theodore, “Our marketing and sales people love print publication leave-behinds. There’s something visceral about seeing a story in print versus seeing it in digital.”

While the response may not be as measurable as the clicks and likes in the online world, Theodore says, “Anecdotally, we get a lot of positive response. Our editors get emails. People come up to me all the time on the road.”

“We promote digital but we’re not excluding print,” said Theodore, “People want their print pieces. There’ll always be a place for print.”