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Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Brochures - do you need them?

This is the third in a series of posts re-visiting the 30 low cost or free publicity techniques featured in PHPR's founder's best-selling book: DIYPR, the small business owner's guide to 'free' publicity. The 30 techniques are a mix of sales, marketing and PR tools because you need to work all three disciplines to effectively boost a business. As the series develops, choose a few to trial for a few months. The aim is to work up to 10 varied publicity techniques that work for you and your business to create a rolling PR Plan for success.

Your feedback is most welcome and may be included (with proper attribution) in the forthcoming revised edition of DIY PR.

Despite the flexibility and immediacy of websites and PDF files, there comes a time when many a business owner wonders if it's about time they produced a brochure, or some other sort of impressive printed output, to make the enterprise appear more established. The thought usually hits them when they have just seen a competitors' particularly impressive publication.

There's no doubt that a beautifully printed job is an impressive object, especially if is exquisitely designed and produced on heavy duty coated paper, with a cover finished with a seductively silky surface coating, possibly highlighted with gloss spot varnish.

However, no matter how impressive, you need to think long and hard about your intended recipients. The chances are that your top potential clients are trying to run a paperless office and your work of art will go straight into the bin. Or worse: they will take one look and wonder how much of their fees are going towards fancy brochures. Or be shocked at how little care you are displaying for the environment.

There are practical issues. You often need to specify a lot of brochures before the unit cost comes down, but printed materials go out of date so quickly: sometimes before they come back from the printer.

Are brochures just expensive sops to the business owner's ego? Surely luxury brands are an exception?

I would suggest that nowdays, there are cleverer ways for luxury brands to spend their promotional budget. Especially when posh brochures risk trashing the company's environmental credentials. Maybe a bigger spend on design, branding or packaging? An interactive website? Or a really amazing and memorable business card? I don't think people see a business card as a massive waste of resources and the humble card is often the most immediate and frequently used tool.

If you really feel you must leave something decent sitting on prospective clients' desks, consider a good looking pre-printed folder to take well-designed loose-leaf inserts that you can update and run off onto good quality paper. Then you can select a range of product or service information sheets plus relevant case studies and licensed media coverage reprints to impress that particular client. Effectively, every folder becomes a bespoke brochure, with minimal waste. If you use sustainable paper and inks then the environmental impact is reduced and you can add a claim to that effect to collect a small green plus point.

To print or not to print is a good example of 'big picture' PR thinking designed to keep an eye out for all the behaviors and decisions that can impact on a company's reputation.

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posted by Penny Haywood Calder at


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