Print vs Digital: The grand comeback of printed comms

Jan Fitzgerald is a communications and media specialist. For the last 12 years Jan has worked largely across internal communications for remote workforces in transport, retail and construction.

She specialises in content production, channels strategy and development, print vs digital alignment and insights analysis. Jan’s particular interest is in how to overcome remote workforces and targeting the less engaged. She loves working in internal comms because of the diversity and variety that every day brings in terms of people and work. There’s never a dull moment!

In this episode, we hear about the Linkedin conversation, which sparked the reason behind this podcast. Jan posted a really interesting set of analysis from some research that she conducted about print and the use of print and internal comms. Jan is a huge advocate of print and explains that in this day and age, digital is not always the most sustainable or appropriate option for the audience.

There’s also a CommsHero podcast first, but we’ll let you listen to Jan to announce her BIG news…

Jan Fitzgerald

Communications Manager

Key Topics:

“So I am actually a communications manager at Transport for London, TFL, and we are a largely operational workforce, a lot of frontline staff, a lot of people who have no access to digital, or limited access to digital due to the nature of their role, which I think a lot of companies have that type of a dynamic going on.

And I just found print is a core part of our channel’s mix because of those reasons. And I just found the research so limited when it comes to looking at our future strategy and how we want to evolve our print channels, what we’re going to do, how we can make it better.

And then obviously the pandemic, I think, threw everyone into a bit of upheaval and how we communicated and what we did, not just the TFL but everywhere, changed, as you know, across the comms profession.

And I was really intrigued to know, well, how was print effected because I’d heard through the grapevine through my own comms network some people ramped up, some people paused it for various reasons, but I wasn’t really getting the insight I needed.

So I decided, “You know what, I’m going to do some research myself.” And then on top of that, there’s also the fact that print, be it internal or external, is notoriously difficult to measure. So it just was an idea that came to me to give our measurements some backing and benchmarking within internal communications and other organizations as well as our own business. And that’s why I did it really, just to get some answers for the burning questions I had.”

“Not that I’m aware of, no. I think there’s been some great case studies, massive, a lot on broader topics. So there’s a lot about how to target remote workforces, and then that in itself factors in some research regarding print. I know some agencies I know who’ve done some exclusive research just on their own print channels and actually the success and downfalls of those. But I don’t think there’s been, I suppose, a piece as a whole about print.

And I suspect that the large reason for that is because the cost implicated with print and the fact that it’s not doable for everybody, but it is doable for a lot. And particularly for remote and frontline organisations, it’s a big winner. So yeah, I just felt it was something that really needs to be looked into.

I also think the conversation around print dying has been going on for years and maybe that’s stopped people because of the digital… When digital was new and fresh, I think the looking into print into that type of depth wasn’t really done, whereas I think that conversation’s changing, which we’ll talk about later. And so yeah, now seems like the perfect time to think about it a bit more broadly.”

“Yeah, so I think the pandemic has largely worked in print’s favour though internally and externally. I think more than ever digital fatigue is not a new thing. It was something that was there before COVID and before the pandemic.

But when everyone I suppose moved to a different way of working, a lot of people working from home, online only, and obviously our social media and our news intake was dramatically ramped up throughout the pandemic. And I just think digital fatigue and digital overload has become more of a problem than ever. So I think that the pandemic, well, I know the pandemic has enhanced print, and it started to change the conversation from that digital replacement of print to digital and print working harder together.

That’s for me what has been the biggest piece. It’s about integration of channels, not replacing channels. So yeah, I think it’s done print a favour, and hopefully that’ll last.”

“Do you know what, there wasn’t… So I’ve always loved print. I’m notoriously prefer a book over a Kindle type of girl. I’m a big advocate of print and always have been, so I think although things were surprising, there were some things that didn’t surprise me, and that’s that it’s still alive and well.


The biggest surprise has probably been that out of the 60 participants who contributed to my research, hardly any, and I really I think it was like one or two, cut their print budget during the pandemic or after the pandemic, despite the financial challenges that we’re facing in the economy. A lot of businesses are making huge, I suppose, financial cuts looking ahead and thinking about how to recover the money they lost during COVID. But yet print is still being prioritized.

And I found that really interesting because I’m working in internal communications about 12 years. And while in TFL, certainly, print is a core part of our channels mix, that’s not always the case in other businesses, and often it’s the first to get reduced because of money.

So I just find that really interesting that actually that wasn’t the case in everyone I spoke to. Even in the more in depth case studies, I did two case studies as well, and yeah, no, it hasn’t been culled as I thought it would be as a quick way to save money. So it means, I think, people, like you said, are thinking a little bit harder about one way of getting a coherent and concise message out to people in one manner and print does that, so that was what surprised me the most.”

The biggest benefit of print? I think there’s lots of them. I think for a predominantly remote and operational workforce, it’s a brilliant channel to have because it ticks a lot of boxes that digital just can’t.

I think, even in TFL and in other businesses like that, most people today have access to digital, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they have the time or the capacity to do so. So you might be in a role where at no point from the moment you log on and go home, have you actually got a reason to be online due to an operational role, and that’s across the board. That’s not just in transport. That’s in the NHS. That’s in lots of industries, and actually print can really, really help get messaging out there for people who just don’t get the chance to read emails, or go on social media, or look at anything digital. So I think that’s a massive, massive benefit of it.

I also think that’s something that’s overlooked often, and the research actually confirmed this, is prints a lot more to do with culture. And obviously we spoke about combat and digital fatigue. And I think when you’re so overloaded with email and digital, getting something printed, it can often be a welcome release from that. But I think from a cultural perspective, what really shown, or stood out, in the research is that it really is a channel that allows businesses to set their clear goals in one way, set their vision and values. It’s like one aligned message, so often in big organizations, and sometimes in smaller, people work in silos.

Whereas I think with a magazine, you can bring all everything together, and it can enable people to learn about other parts of the business, see what’s going on, hear from the top, hear from the bottom, from the ground up those people’s stories.

And I think because at the moment, especially in comms, we’re hearing a lot about reactive churn. I think we’re still on that reacting very quickly on the back of the pandemic, because we have to do it day in and day out throughout. And I know it’s not over yet, but at the peak of it.

And I think with print, because of the lead times being longer, which has its challenges, but actually if you spin that on its head and you think about what you can do differently, you can do some really engaging content with that time. Because often communicators just don’t have the time to think about, actually how can we make this really engaging? How can we really hit a heartfelt story because we have to react?

Whereas with print, you can do all your big ticket items, but also get to the nitty gritty of the people in a business. The stories they wish to share because you have the time to plan and do so, and I think, unlike other channels, that’s something that gets overlooked and that’s what makes print, so I love that about it.”

“Yeah. Massively costs and sustainability are the biggest concerns with print for everybody, ourselves included, something we’ve worked very hard at and continue to work hard at. I think…

Yeah, it’s an interesting one, but I would say that it’s in a communicator’s gift to challenge the source of where print is coming from. There’s lots of things you can do before you cull a product from a sustainability perspective. I mean, there’s an argument about the fact that digital isn’t always as sustainable as we think, particularly with overload, but going back to print and how you can make that more sustainable, I think there’s ways of doing it.

So you can work really hard with your suppliers and actually challenge the frequency of a magazine. Do we need to do it as often as we’re doing? The pagenation of a magazine, is it fit for purpose? Could we reduce it?

And then other things like, we’ve worked really hard throughout the pandemic and before to really look at our suppliers, look at our costs, and in turn look at our source. So working with recycled paper, looking at the ink, and is that sustainable? Is our stock FSC-accredited, all of those big, important questions.

I’m not really sure communicators are entirely aware of are in their ability to ask about. So when we’re working with a supplier, they’re the main questions we have.

And then also looking at your postage methods and how you’re using resource. And could you reduce it? So sometimes it’s a whole mailing process that works, so you send it out to everyone. But sometimes that’s not needed. You could do a bulk delivery where you dramatically reduce packaging, send it to different locations. There’s lots of things you can do. So yeah, I think still sustainability is a big concern for people, but I would say don’t be put off print just because of that. Just be smart and wise about how you do it.”

Asif Choudry:

“Yeah, no, absolutely. You picked up on a couple of points in there that we, as a… Like I say, we’ve got a print operation on our premises and have been part of that industry for 20 plus years now, and sustainability here, there is a massive education piece that we certainly have been on for a number of years. And we will continue to drive that where I do find that most communicators aren’t aware of the options.

And that’s something that the print industry itself has to look at themselves because inherently they’re helpers of communications, but they’re not necessarily the best communicators themselves. But so we’ve certainly been on that mission where there are options for using… There’s absolutely no reason you can’t use sustainably sourced, FSC-certified paper on everything that you do because it comes in uncoated stocks. And also looking at your print supplier, are they a carbon balanced printer?

So within the manufacturing process, there are emissions. Every printer should be going through, as we are measuring scope one and two and also scope three, looking at science based target initiatives, that kind of stuff, so that’s a journey. We’ve been on that journey since 2013 ourselves, and we actively promote providing certificates on each job for an annual supply to our customers to tell them how many kilos of carbon have been offset in the production of their particular publication or publications through the year.

And also by using a carbon balance printer, the customer has the ability to help save rainforest because it is… We pay a levy to the World Land Trust, and they actually buy areas of critically threatened rainforest. And that’s because if people didn’t buy print through us, we wouldn’t be able to do anything for the World Land trust because it relies on people doing print, vegetable based inks, all these things.

So there’s lots of ways to make things sustainable if it’s going to be print. And you’re absolutely right about digital and the greenwashing element that sending an email has zero impact on the environment. That’s absolutely not true, and that’s a whole other debate, which we’re going to have people covering that in CommsHero Week, so that’s the…

We talked about the benefits of print there and some of the challenges in effect and not just to it as a physical product, but the perceptions that people have. So I think certainly something will continue to bang that drum and keep promoting that message.”


Jan Fitzgerald:

“Yeah, that’s a really some really good points you raise there, Asif. And I think my advice to people who maybe are very overwhelmed by the task at hand and don’t know where to start is just ask questions. So really transparency with your suppliers is everything. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

So one of the things we do is we work with our environmental team, and then they challenge us in some things. And then we go back and challenge our suppliers and it’s a process and something we’re progressing with, but it’s something that we’re actively doing far more than I think I would say I’ve done anywhere else. And it’s something we’re definitely looking to improve constantly.

And I just think, yeah, having those conversations, not being afraid to speak up, not being afraid to change a supplier, if it’s not working with for you. I think that’s a really important one as well. And actually pushing, like you said, suppliers to be more accountable and be more transparent. So yeah, it’s a long game, but worth it, I think, in the end.”


“So there’s quite a few, but I think overall it’s in our gift to make print work in our channel’s mix if the appetite is there, but we just need to do the work to back that it’s the right channel and why.

Like I mentioned before, I’m in internal comms about 12 years, and I think gone are the days where we just accept the channels mix we have and just make do. We have to think bigger and harder about if a channel’s right and why and how we can utilize it, improve it, and make it work for the business we’re in and the audience we’re in. So I think the…

We talked about use sustainability and cost-effectiveness, but it needs to be challenged even if the queries are coming from the top. At the end of the day, all comms pros need to make the right business case before print channels are culled and not considered. And I think that’s something we need to think about more as internal communicators.

Return on investment for comms professionals is largely to do how well a channel gets a message out and enables feedback to be sent back. Print can fill a lot of those gaps in a concise way across a diverse and varied workforce, and I think it’s worth looking at.

It’s difficult to measure, absolutely, and it does have its challenges, but when looking at it as part of a wider campaign, and also enabling it to interact and engage with digital content, too. So ways to overcome measurement might be including more QR codes, links to digital links and channels that you can then measure to see actually how many people are using print to go back to other channels. There are ways to overcome that, and I just think it’s about really thinking harder and outside the box about how you use a print channel and make it work for you. That’s probably the biggest takeaway.”

“I honestly think print is going to work harder with digital. So we see external magazines do it really well with social media. I mean, you just have to look at like Cosmopolitan, Vogue, lots of other magazines, about how they do it. They really have an integrated print and digital approach.

I think that’s the future of print down the line that… Yeah, absolutely, there will always be people who hate us and want a digital option, so I think you’re never going to have a one size fits all approach. You’re never going to be able to go, “Yeah, print’s for everyone.” But equally you’re never going to be able to go, “Yeah, digital’s for everyone,” so it’s about giving people the option to engage in a way that works best for them.

And that’s not just about preference. That’s about accessibility, learning issues, social issues. Print very much is part of that mix as well because not everyone’s comfortable with digital. So yeah, it’s about print remaining part of the comms channel’s mix and hopefully being more cost-effective, more environmentally friendly, and working harder with digital so that it’s never going to be replaced, but it’s going to be balanced within a channel’s mix and just be part of the team just like everything else is.”

“Well, I think CommsHero is one of these fantastic networks that can really, really help internal communicators learn outside the business they work in, find peers, find friends, share knowledge.

Sometimes when you work in internal communications, when you’re so consumed by your day to day, it’s hard to see beyond the world you’re working in. And I personally find that networks like CommsHero are imperative to people for building their confidence, getting their learning, and actually just really enjoying things. Like one of my favourite parts of working in internal comms is meeting people like yourself and the network of internal communications pros out there, and CommsHero is a fantastic way of getting that access, so I think it’s brilliant.”

A final thought

These debates are brilliant. We shouldn’t be afraid about a debate. Ultimately, not everything works for everyone, and there will always be a reason to challenge and why something might work at a time and might not work at another time. But I still don’t believe print is dead. I don’t think it’s dying in the slightest. If anything, I think it’s making a comeback.”

Fancy getting in the hot seat and sharing your CommsHero wisdom? Contact Asif Choudry

Tickets are now available for #CommsHero week, 19-23 September. The week-long virtual event with over 35 sessions live streamed and available on demand for a year. Great value at £180 and you can find out more at


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