Canadian Consulting Engineer

The Case for Print

December 1, 2005
By Vic Wilensky

During a recent presentation to the marketing committee of a major consulting engineering firm near Toronto, I was asked the question: "If we have an effective website, why do we need a brochure as we...

During a recent presentation to the marketing committee of a major consulting engineering firm near Toronto, I was asked the question: “If we have an effective website, why do we need a brochure as well?” I replied with some initial practical reasons, but also thought this was a controversial topic worth exploring further.


The focus for consulting engineering companies is on promoting their professional services (business to business), and not, as in the consumer retail world, on promoting products. The key difference is that services are intangible — somewhat invisible — compared to products.

For consulting engineers, print can help to convey elusive attributes such as excellence and professionalism through the quality of the reproduction, the finish and the weight of the printed page. Compare a good quality printed brochure with low-resolution web page printouts and you can appreciate print’s value. Also, just physically holding a brochure is a tactile experience providing credibility. One supplier of fine papers is using the phrase “Texture Messaging” for two of its product lines as a play on words to highlight the difference between electronic messaging and the tangible value of printed material.


Print’s authority makes it visually persuasive and convincing. For that reason, where many people use e-mail for ongoing correspondence, when it comes to sending an important message, they find a letter makes a solid statement.

Paper is also portable, durable and flexible. And with print-on-demand technology there is no need to print thousands of copies; print runs can be as few, as customized, and as personalized as necessary.

Two other benefits favour print. In a face-to-face meeting with a potential client, the ability to leave a printed brochure not only confirms what you discussed about your firm’s capabilities, but also enables that message to be handed to the ultimate decision-maker in the organization. And with direct mail you can even send brochures to all past, current and potential clients.

The Web

The World Wide Web is an instant, excellent resource for posting general information, and time-dependent news and updates about your company. For companies pursuing distant and global markets, websites are an absolute necessity.

The interactivity of the web also provides the visitor with quick access to further information by way of rollovers, links and other features. Flash and a myriad of software that provides audio, video and multi-media capabilities enrich and maximize the entertainment aspect of the website.

However, given that your website is often visited by your competition, you might be concerned about revealing some specific content. In print, your information goes only to the target audience.

Web pages are simply that — single pages only, as opposed to the dynamic two- or three-page spreads achievable in print. So each web site page must stand on its own. Quite often the text and graphics have to be stripped down to reduce the file to a more convenient size for downloading.

Another consideration is the reduced readability of material on a screen. Various studies have found that it can be 20-30% more difficult to read from a screen than from print.

People are also extremely task-focused when they are on the web. There is an urgency to click through to the next page. A current study, “Memory for Advertising and Information Content: Comparing the Printed Page to the Computer Screen,” in Psychology & Marketing (August 2005), showed that brand-name recall was substantially lower for screen respondents.

What about costs? Electronic media may appear to be cheaper, but in addition to your investment in initially creating the website, there are the costs of maintaining it. Making sure your website is seen by a target audience can require premium paid placement on search engines and listings on trade directory websites. As for the idea that electronic communication is environmentally sound, since more and more pages are being printed off the internet every day, one wonders how many trees are actually being saved.

The right mix

In summary, the immediacy of a website provides up to date information, whereas the quality of print conveys knowledge and persuades. Ultimately, you need both types of marketing tool, but the audience and the message need to be carefully considered in each case. Also, because of the differing reader vs. visitor experiences, designing for the two media requires different approaches.

It also comes down to personal choice. Some people are simply more comfortable with paper, some with electronic media, many are comfortable with both.

The web is a great resource for current information, but it is only one component in the overall media mix and branding of the organization. Print continues to serve its traditional role for companies pursuing new clients and projects.

Vic Wilensky is principal of GreenOaks Communications ( of Toronto. He has specialized in graphic design and marketing communications for the consulting engineering industry for 22 years. E-mail


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