Traditional vs. Digital: Diversifying Patient Recruitment Funds Across Media

As we all know, patient recruitment isn’t a straightforward process, and the investment of time and money can be quite large. While digital media can be an efficient and economical advertising realm, investing solely in digital advertisements could result in a failure to reach many potential patients. Perhaps surprisingly, a one-handed advertising approach could affect your site’s credibility. This blog explores how diversifying your advertising dollars across both traditional and digital media can help you reach potential patients.

But Isn’t Traditional Media Dying?

Things have certainly changed in the last decade, but the rise of digital advertising does not necessarily mean that traditional media has lost its importance. A recent study by MarketingSherpa found that traditional ads make up the top five most trusted ad formats: print, television, direct mail, radio, and out-of-home advertising such as billboards or signage we see when out and about. The survey also found that traditional ads have a very high engagement level, with over half of respondents saying they tend to attentively watch TV ads from companies they like. Similar numbers were reported for direct mailers.

A Few Types of Traditional Media to Consider


Despite the rise of on-demand streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu, plenty of people still watch cable and network TV. According to Nielson's consumer report, nearly 87% of US households are reached daily via television, and people spend about 25 hours per week watching televised content. This number varies slightly across generations, with Baby Boomers averaging the most TV time-- about 48 hours a week-- and Millennials watching the least at about 18 hours a week.

Patients tend to view television ads as more credible and trustworthy than other sources, such as digital media. According to a 2016 survey from MarketingSherpa, TV was the second most trusted source influencing consumer purchase decisions. The credibility attributed to TV ads could be related to the fact that televised ads contain both audio and visual elements, which can lead to a higher response rate and can build rapport for your site.


Depending on your location, market, and your specific audience, radio advertisements may still be highly beneficial. Radio is still one of the strongest and most prevalent platforms in terms of reach. According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2017, about 92% of Millennials, 95% of GenXers, and 94% of Baby Boomers are reached each week via radio. On average, about 54% of the country’s population is reached daily through radio, which spans an audience made up of all generations, ethnicities and household income levels. Plus, radio ads tend to be relatively inexpensive to air.


Print can bring versatility to your ad campaign. Whether you want a small ad with basic calls-to-action or brand visibility for your site, or a full-page informative ad for a study, print can present options within your budget. Plus, print publications tend to have a longer circulation time in the marketplace. Some magazines are weekly, monthly, or even quarterly publications, meaning your ad can stay current for the length of the publication’s current issue. Even if you put ads in the daily newspaper, these ads are tangible, and people tend not to throw them out right away. Also, the tangible nature of print means that print ads can be saved if a patient wants to keep the information for future reference.

Pros and Cons of Traditional Marketing

For the clinical research industry, traditional media is a great tool for accessing a local audience; it can help build brand consistency and credibility within your local community. Traditional media helps to inform the public of your research site, advertising to a wide and diverse audience in a tangible format not available within digital media.

With the market becoming more and more saturated with digital forms of marketing, knowing that a business paid for a traditional ad can positively impact a potential patient’s view of your research site. Look at things from the perspective of your audience; for potential patients, volunteering for a clinical trial can be a big risk. An ad patients view as credible is going to result in higher rates of success in your recruitment efforts and for the patients your trial is designed to help.

Here is an overview of some of the key pros and cons of traditional advertising:

Traditional Marketing Pros:

  • Traditional marketing lets you easily target your local audience.

  • Audiences view ads in traditional media as more trustworthy than digital ads.

  • Your audience or potential patient has a better chance of referring to the ad numerous times. For example, a newspaper or magazine ad can be clipped out and hung on the fridge. The same can't be said for a digital banner ad on a web browser.

Traditional Marketing Cons:

  • The communication channel is one-way; you can’t communicate with your audience in real time.

  • The cost tends to be higher than the cost of digital advertisements.

  • Traditional ads are a lot harder to track. You can’t get an accurate analysis of how many people looked at your newspaper ad like you can with a social media advertisement.

Pros and Cons of Digital Marketing

Our focus so far has been on traditional marketing since its benefits tend to be overlooked in the current age of information; however, that doesn’t mean digital media is without very real strengths. For example:

  • Social media can provide cost effective, targeted ads that easily reach the young Millennial audience in particular. These sites often offer robust analytics that allow you to adjust your advertising strategy quickly, if needed.

  • Much like social media, banner ads allow you advertise to a very specific population. Unlike social media ads (which are only displayed on a single platform), banner ads can be displayed along the margins of any webpage, allowing you to reach members of your target audience on sites they use to engage with the communities they care about.

  • Landing pages serve as a hub for your various other digital ads to direct to. Like other forms of digital advertising, they are relatively inexpensive to set up. They can be highly informative because you are not limited to any specific content length, and they offer an effective method for receiving and tracking referrals.

Digital marketing certainly has its strong points-- like its scalability and cost-effectiveness-- but data shows people are growing increasingly dissatisfied with some of the popular marketing tactics being utilized today. In fact, according to MarketingDaily  81% of consumers say they close browsers or webpages because of a pop-up ads. Digital ads, because of their over-saturation, may be more tolerated than appreciated these days.

Here is an overview of the pros and cons of digital advertising:  

Digital Marketing Pros:

  • Advertisers can target very specific audiences. Many platforms can accurately pinpoint potential patients based on users’ browsing histories and other various pieces of information users share on the platform.

  • Advertisers can interact with their audience with the click of a button.

  • Advertisers can see real-time results and track these metrics.

Digital Marketing Cons:

  • First impressions matter, and sometimes, because of the oversaturated market, digital versions of ads do not stick quite as well with the audience as a TV ad or a radio ad might. Think about how many sponsored ads you scroll past when browsing Facebook or Instagram.

  • Digital marketing can backfire in this sense and can actually make businesses seem less credible.

  • Your audience may feel targeted in a negative way, and may feel that advertisers know more personal information about them then they would have otherwise wished.


In today’s advertising market, it can be difficult to reach your audience due to the many outlets people are now using to gather information. Diversifying your advertising dollars across both traditional and digital media may not only lead to recruiting more patients, but will also build a better image of your site within your community. Keep in mind, you should always tailor your campaigns to fit your study, indication and audience.