It's about communication, stupid

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It's about communication, stupid

April 25, 2010 - 21:04

LONDON, April 26, 2010 (RISI) -That may be a harsh headline, but there is a shining thread of truth in this statement running right through and across the global industry. In fact as you all twiddle your collective thumbs wondering where your next big order is coming from, Rome is not only burning, it is witnessing the start of an inferno.

Why am I being so tough on paper industry players this month? Well take RISI's European Pulp and Paper Outlook Conference that was held in Amsterdam recently. Our revered speakers came from all over the industry, from the banking sector, from biofuels and bioenergy divisions, from the buying and printing fraternity, and from those very clever people that provide carbon footprint calculations in all industries. And of course it goes without saying that we had more than a smattering of the top CEOs from the European industry also making their presence felt to a record audience. Each, to a man (and the women too), the speakers were all if not exasperated, at least disappointed at the industry's inability to get the message over to the general public that paper and board is a hugely environmentally friendly product.

An ongoing problem - set to get worse

It seems that the problem really stems from two areas; a totally fragmented industry, and an old fashioned mindset that sees marketing a modern therefore expensive exercise. One industry player I spoke to at the conference hit the nail on the head when he said, "Most companies (outside the industry) allocate at least 10-15% of their turnover to the vital business area of marketing, we are lucky if we get 3%. We seem to think that a new headbox is much more important than getting any message over to the general public."

This situation would probably be fine if paper, especially graphic paper and newsprint, didn't have great big threats breathing down its neck. And if we think the general situation is bad now, then what about the future? At the conference, much of the talk was about the new e-readers that allow you to download just about everything onto very clever and handy little devices for reading at your leisure. DO NOT underestimate the coolness factor of these highly desirable objects! Being an avid lover of paper and a supporter of this industry, my boss recently passed me one of these genius little devices. Despite my initial reticence, it seduced me in seconds; it reads like a book, weighs about as much as a book, and my goodness, it can hold 3000 books! It also allows you to do a whole load of other stuff as well. So what that you can't read it in the bath?

The picture is contributed by istockphoto.

What about biofuels and bioenergy - will they save us?

Also at the conference in Amsterdam, we addressed the issue of biofuels and bioenergy, will they be the saviour of the industry. Our expert speaker from Södra Cell, Asa Forrs, project manager for innovation, told us firmly ‘no', it won't. We have to be good at our core business, and take any revenue achieved in other areas as a bonus. Jouko Karvinen, Stora Enso's CEO also swatted this question away when I spoke to him recently, echoing those self same words, "let's get the best out of what we are doing at our core first", he said.

Of course, the bio areas are of interest to the industry, in fact UPM has just launched Biofore, a long term strategy for the company that will presumably see the biofuels and energy come to the fore, but this does not take away from the fact that paper will always account for the vast majority of turnover of these companies, it is just a shame that conversion into profits are so hard to come by.

Something at last is happening

But actually, since my last rant on the subject, a couple of initiatives look like they are gaining pace and acceptance among a growing number of industry supporters. We have the Two Sides campaign (twosides.info) that was initially rolled out just in the UK and is now gaining pace in Europe which tells the sustainability story of paper, and the Print Power campaign which is gaining a lot of interest as it seeks to prove, with real life examples, that advertising on paper and printed promotional collateral provide a much better return on marketing spend than any other medium. These two sites are really worth a visit if you want your company involved, even companies from outside Europe.

And finally, is it now time the paper industry put its money where its mouth is and spent a few dollars of its own on advertising in the mainstream media? Now there is a unique marketing idea.