8 Nov. 2021. With the print industry on the rise after a tough 18 months, the Two Sides Power of Print Seminar was a day of forward-thinking ideas and a strong sense of optimism.

Now into its eleventh year, the Two Sides Power of Print Seminar was once again a virtual event – the continuing issues surrounding the pandemic resulting in the conference’s usual venue of The Stationers’ Hall being replaced by personal offices, front rooms and kitchen tables. However, while face-to-face interaction was limited, it did mean that many more people from many more countries were able to attend – over 750 people registered for the seminar from as far away as the US, Singapore and Australia.

What those attending the seminar enjoyed was a day of information and insight, a summing up of the past, present and future of the print, paper and packaging industry, as well as its place in modern marketing and the fight against climate change. The eight experts speaking at the event not only saw a bright future for the print industry, but praised its versatility and ability to cut through the digital noise – an advantage that will only become stronger as technology advances and more people crave the personal touch.

An Industry On The Rise
The morning session began with Charles Jarrold, the CEO of BPIF, who outlined the current state of the print industry and how it’s coped with the challenges of the past 18 months. “The sector has had to deal with a lot,” he said, “but the sector has dealt with it well.”

The key figures for the industry is that while it was still suffering the effects of repeated lockdowns 12 months ago, experiencing a 20% drop in turnover, it’s now 20-25% up year on year. Business confidence is on the rise, and output and orders are both on the increase.

In line with the changing business environment, the major issues facing companies have also changed, from Covid-19, Brexit, and the survival of major customers in 2020, to paper and energy costs, and access to skilled labour in 2021. With a £12.6bn turnover and over 105,000 people employed, print is still a huge industry for the UK, with a strong mix of small, medium and large companies helping it to remain resilient in the face of enormous challenges.

“This diversity of the sector is a real strength,” said Charles. “As we emerge out of Covid, we all need to work together and foster a stronger sense of collaboration. We have an overriding common interest, and we can look forward with optimism.”

Closing The Print-Digital Gap
The subject of integrating technology with print is one that a number of speakers touched upon throughout the day, using print to gain the consumer’s attention before moving them online to take action. Sarah Burns, Head of Media Solutions at marketing agency Edit, and Karen Pierre, Marketing Manager at the RSPCA, teamed up to deliver a talk on how creating a seamless shift from offline to online is key to a successful campaign.

Using data from JICMAIL, Sarah examined recent audience data for direct mail, describing a 300% increase in online actions initiated by mail for the over-55 age group, before talking about the number of 16-34 year olds engaging with mail – a consequence of recent Covid-19 lockdowns and the novelty of receiving something through the post.

Meanwhile, Karen used one of the RSPCA’s recent direct mail campaigns to demonstrate the value of QR codes and the addition of Alexa skills to boost fundraising. “Using Alexa really builds our communication with donors,” she explained. “We are still seeing responses from the platform three months after the initial mailing.”

Of course, the key to effective marketing, whether in print or online, is having the right data, and Daniel Dunn, founder of direct mail agency Paperplanes explored how the print industry could make a lot more of the data it holds. “Marketing managers are currently considering methods other than digital to reach their customers,” he said. “Online privacy regulation could change the entire industry, so there’s an opportunity for mail to use the data held by companies to target consumers and make a real difference to sales.”

The Importance Of Trust
The role of newspapers over the past 18 months has become more and more important, not only in providing a trusted source of news, but also vital health information about protection from Covid-19 and the vaccination rollout. Owen Meredith, CEO of the News Media Association (NMA) outlined the benefits of the UK’s newspaper industry, from the impact of a well-crafted front cover to providing the ideal environment for effective advertising. “In a crowded digital world where competition for eyeballs and attention is intense,” he said, “print provides a trusted, focused environment which grabs the reader’s attention.”

Owen also drew upon a number of research studies that highlight the importance of trust in the reader-newsbrand relationship, including Newsworks’ RAMetrics data that shows print advertising is now delivering much stronger performances across key brand measures than it did a decade ago, and IPA Touchpoints data that revealed readers spent 24% longer reading print newsbrands during lockdown.

“Time and time again, research shows the importance for advertisers of appearing in a high-quality environment next to trusted content rather than risking the Wild West of the social media platforms.”

The Global Economy
One of the highlights of the 2020 Seminar was the highly respected economist Andrea Boltho, who returned this year to update his analysis of the global financial situation. The Emeritus Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and director of Oxford Economics was a little more upbeat this year, detailing the world’s business recovery and expansion, but also striking a few cautionary notes.

While expansion is continuing and pent-up savings could raise demand for goods, there are undoubtedly shortages because of shipping problems and price increases in commodities such as oil and gas. Looking at the longer term, Andrea predicted that an ageing global population is likely to reduce growth because of lower labour supply and raise interest rates.

But that’s not the worst part. “The main danger for the world’s economy comes from the US-China rift,” he warned. “Along with the possibility that Donald Trump could become President again in 2024.”

The Environmental Perspective
With COP26 happening at the same time as the Power of Print Seminar, the presentation by Jonathan Porritt, co-founder of Forum for the Future and eminent sustainability campaigner, took on a particular resonance. He explained the importance of keeping global warming below two degrees: “Between 1.5 and two degrees, many of the tipping points will be catastrophic for the world. At two degrees the whole of the Greenland ice sheet will melt, raising the sea level by seven metres, and the whole of the Amazon rainforest could become a net emitter of CO2 rather than a carbon sink. The destructive power of climate change will affect everyone.”

Jonathan also spoke about the paper sector and the “sustainable biomass” it relies upon. Sceptical about government and business planting campaigns such as the various ‘Trillion Trees’ initiatives, he does however believe that print and paper can be a highly sustainable industry.

“I feel very positive about the inherent sustainability of the print and paper industry,” stated Jonathan, who had been a forester himself, planting 70 acres of land in New Zealand. “But this has taken a long time to arrive at this point in Europe, and countries such as Indonesia will be more difficult.”

Retail Therapy
Last of the guest speakers was Steve Lister, a retail sustainability strategist, who provided a fascinating overview of how the retail sector is using print in new and exciting ways. Among the many case studies that Steve showcased were the Selfridges window displays that demonstrated how the famous store dealt with waste products and its new ranges that used sustainable materials, as well as the variety of drinks companies trialling fibre-based bottles, such as L’Oreal and Carlsberg.

He also highlighted how the in-store experience is being transformed by paper and card, with supermarkets such as the Co-op and M&S swapping their signs from foam PVC to cardboard. Alongside the brands themselves, the display manufacturers and distributors are also playing their part, offering a choice of sustainable materials and providing clients with the information to help them make decisions on which materials to use.

“It’s all about transparency and connecting with sustainability,” he explained. “Helping clients understand what happens during the print, distribution and recycling stages means they can make an informed choice when it comes to materials.”

The Power of Print seminar is organised by Two Sides and the BPIF, in partnership with Canon, Fedrigoni and Printweek. 

Videos of the presentations can be viewed at: https://www.twosides.info/power-of-print-2021/