Helen Thomas’s column in the Financial Times on the need to kill the City of London’s paper fetish piqued my interest. It’s interesting to note that a paper legacy still influences content marketing, as well.

The formatting of digital documents often still follows the ‘old school’ format of print layouts in today’s digital era – a quirk which has a disproportionately negative effect on businesses trying to get their message across.

In the realm of corporate communications, it’s still far too common to encounter lengthy double-column PDFs that do not align with the landscape orientation of most monitors.

This format forces readers to scroll through each page multiple times – down, up, and down again in an irritating visual gyration that might as well earn it Peter Crouch’s famous Chumbawamba moniker (if you know, you know). This unfriendly formatting renders content nearly unreadable on mobile devices, making it awkward to skim through during commutes, coffee breaks and other prime target times for casual reading.

To be fair, sometimes PDFs are simply digital versions of documents which have been produced for print. However, even in that case some thought should perhaps be given to the accessibility of the digital counterpart, because that is the version in which they will eventually survive.

Otherwise, many recipients will either print out the content to access it more easily or simply delete it: sub-optimal outcomes for both the authors and the environment.

In an era driven by sustainability, where every email signature encourages readers to refrain from printing out unnecessary content – the “Think before you ink” of the business world – it’s disheartening to see corporate graphic designers indulge in this pulp kink (pun intended) in the formatting of marketing materials.

For these reasons, we usually advise clients to keep texts concise and punchy, or to embrace more practical layouts for effective and accessible reproduction on websites and other digital channels. Formats that look to the past will not endear you to an audience which progressively comprises more and more digital natives.

As London celebrates the long-awaited reopening of the National Portrait Gallery, perhaps businesses should consider donating their vertically orientated marketing materials to the museum’s collection!