Professionals find time for publications

In this article Richard Tomlin of RIBA Journal comments on some of the findings from the Construction Media Index 2022 on readership of digital and hard copy publications by construction decision makers.

The last CMI was published in 2019. Since then we have been through ‘unprecedented times’ and become familiar with previously unknown personalities in Chris Whitty and Jonathan Van-Tam. These uber intellectuals are known for their sporting metaphors and canny catch phrases such as “next slide please”. However, they are probably best known for asking the powers that be to make credible decisions based on “the science” and the clarity it provides.

This report, albeit on a totally different level, does just that . It provides clarity for construction marketers and should be used to create sound strategy and ensure campaigns reach their desired audience.

Publications have played a key role in the marketing mix for decades. Magazines and websites are trusted by professionals, they have a high readership, and therefore, an unrivalled reach to target audiences. The report suggests that a minimum of nearly two thirds of individuals from all sectors read publications, with some sectors a lot higher.

Covid has accelerated changes in behaviour. This report confirms the continuing transition from hardcopy to digital readership.

(Although, in my sector, architecture, hardcopy remains easily the most popular whereas consultants marginally prefer digital.)

According to the findings, this transition will continue apace. It’s inevitable that we will see digital readership altogether overtake hardcopy over the next five years, if not sooner.

Another interesting insight is that readers are committing to brands rather than investing time in different brands for hardcopy and digital. In most sectors it appears the majority are loyal to at least two brands. These tend to be sector leaders.

For me, with advertisers front of mind, the most revealing outcome is the readerships finding the time to read news and publications. Fortunately both hard copy and digital publications in the construction sector are commercially well supported through advertising, branded content and sponsorship. This enables publishers to invest in high quality, relevant and business critical editorial where readers can justify the time. In my 25+ years in B2B publishing, most former colleagues are now in sectors which have experienced a steeper decline in commercial support and over time forced to publish online only versions of previously big hardcopy brands. I should at this point caveat that the move to online is also generational – another section of the report outlines the contrast in readership from young to old.

The challenge for marketers lies in finding the right blend hard copy and digital, display and branded content and understanding how audiences are engaging with each. Once they understand this they can target advertising and content accordingly. It’s important to note print is still important for readers and should not be ignored. Whilst many surveyed raised time to read as a barrier to accessing industry news, it doesn’t stop them from doing so. This means due care and consideration should go into what content goes into print – it must be eye-catching, valuable and engaging.

This brings us to the balance between discretionary decision making and analytics and how that affects hard copy and digital investments. Marketers are constantly under pressure to justify spend. The fact that analytics and tracking is more readily available for digital can sway decisions in that direction. The difficulty in proving the need for a mix of channels and touchpoints can mean campaigns risk being comprised.

The report is encouraging for construction marketers, showing clear channels where they can find their audience, and a continued appetite for information and inspiration. The difficulty ahead lies in finding the right balance.

Richard Tomlin, Head of Sponsorship and Sales
Royal Institute of British Architects and  RIBA Journal