Back on track

The industry views it’s revised starting block for 2022 and beyond

With expressions like ‘build back better’ and ‘resilience’ being repeated until the words have lost all meaning, we could be forgiven for thinking we’re stuck in that famous film, Ground Hog Day. At the start of 2021, we started yet another lock down in the UK and watched as neighbouring countries faced the same. We knew this last sacrifice was part of making sure we had a future. Then the changes with our exit from the EU, importing and exporting rules changing plus a carrier crisis, we could be forgiven for not wanting another kick when we’re down and rolling over.

But not this industry. The grit shown in 2020 continued and hard decisions made to make sure we are fighting fit for the rewards on the horizon. The recovery for the UK at every stage in the last 12 months has beaten the downbeat forecasts giving end users hope and importantly, money to spend.

Order books have started to fill, and past crisis point, we are now looking at how the support system around the industry is geared to help business flourish and grow.

The BPMA has been busy throughout, supporting members and providing some industry wide guidance across a range of ‘need to know now’ topics. Taking the reins in November 2021, Chair Haydn Willetts provides a view on the year ahead for our businesses.

‘2021 was always going to be testing and extremely tough year for many businesses. I’m sure in years to come when 2021 is written about there will be amazement as to how the vast majority traded through it – the important thing is, we did. However, we are in a different place now both commercially as well as operationally and the entire supply chain must be mindful of this. Shortages of both labour and stock, raw materials plus huge increases in carrier costs have led to immense pressure points to achieve on time delivery and to specification of the orders, thankfully, being placed. I’ve been asked about our biggest challenge for the year ahead and it has to be stock availability. We do not have a crystal ball to predict with any certainty when we might see a return to ‘normal’ levels as to be honest, we are all facing new levels of everything. Communication, therefore, is even more essential to avoid losing hard won work but also to work proactively with clients and suppliers on what is possible. The BPMA and the entire Board are committed to ensuring we support members in this regard by inspiring, educating and connecting through the service goals we all strive to deliver.’

The BPMA’s membership has always been a good barometer for success. Dropping numbers during 2020 was predicted but with retention in 2021 at an all time high, PM asked Board Director Brian Hayward (PAGE Partnership), responsible for membership at the BPMA, for his thoughts.

‘It’s no secret that the industry has changed since the early days, and we are seeing the base of members shift from the ‘purists’ into those with mixed media under their belts. It’s reassuringly hard to become a member of the BPMA, with references and credit checks plus peer-to-peer recommendation, and we are seeing high quality businesses out there coming to us looking for standards and education. The level of innovation coming through from our existing members is outstanding and the unique opportunity they had during lockdown was to re-focus and re-purpose has meant many have re-emerged with a cast iron view of the future, working with the BPMA to ensure they succeed. The Board is looking at ways to embrace the ways the industry wants and needs to work, starting with recognising what the BPMA has to offer, must and should deliver to its members and ensure it’s here for the future. Our standards and services have gone up and up in recent years so look out for some changes in the coming months.’

Re-joining the Board in 2021, Board Director Clive Allcott (DTB Europe) has taken on the responsibility again for the BPMA’s Charter programme. Alongside the BPMA, Clive has taken considerable time and effort to regulate the Charter process and ensure every member looking to achieve the exceptionally high standards expected are within reach for every member.

Clive said, ‘Charter for both distributors and suppliers is a hard standard to achieve but that badge means something; it builds business and tells your customers ‘We’ve got this covered’. Verification in the businesses we work with can no longer be assumed to create a point of difference, not only does BPMA membership provide reassurance and trust, but Charter takes you to another level of evidenced trust. As we see the supply chain come under closer and closer scrutiny, the need to differentiate yourselves is even more important. We’ve already started a ‘tap on the shoulder’ programme for members who we believe should be considering Charter status whilst enjoying the applications from those member companies who have sought to attain higher standards.’

So, what about educating the industry? After seeing vacancies rise everywhere, shortage of experienced staff in just about every role, education and training are top of most company’s agendas. After a technical issue in 2020, the BPMA’s celebrated TPM (Trained in Promotional Merchandise) and CPM (Certified in Promotional Merchandise) courses were taken off line. In a planned overhaul, the new courses were kick started again in 2021 and saw over 100 industry professionals engage with fully refreshed content. But it doesn’t stop there. Helen Brennan of Brand Addition fame, Board Director responsible for the education direction at the BPMA tells PM of the need to get skills up to scratch fast.

‘Keeping skills current is good for anyone at any stage of their career and now we’re really seeing the value of our ‘for the industry by the industry’ courses to support those joining our industry for the first time. We’re able to get those in the first few formative months of their roles up to scratch with the fundamentals on TPM and provide a springboard into more commercial knowledge with CPM. We’re also providing a huge amount of resource and knowledge via the BPMA site, webinars and ongoing guidance across a huge range of topics. As a heavily regulated industry, we need to ensure we really know our subject and having the central base of expert knowledge means the Association can provide its members with up-to-date knowhow in accessible formats. In addition, we regularly open up webinars to the wider industry when addressing key topics such as export to share the knowledge and help our industry thrive – and of course show off the immense value BPMA members get along the way!’.

With a sharp focus on the planet, the industry is also geared towards a more sustainable future, but it’s already been a tricky one to address. Former Chair, now President of the BPMA Angela Wagstaff heads up the Association’s drive on sustainability. Spelling out the need for a progressive and staged change, she wants to make sure we’re all clear on one thing. The changes are coming and the industry must embrace the opportunity.

‘It’s all a question of education, communication and transparency’ says Wagstaff, founder of Allwag Promotions. ‘As the briefs ask for more and more, we must be ready to provide the right information first time and that means we must do two things; educate ourselves and educate our customers. During 2020 and 2021, despite being hampered by the pandemic, we did carry out consumer research about awareness and recall, and the ethics and sustainability message couldn’t be clearer -tell us more about the products as we love getting them but we want to be responsible. We are already taking huge steps to address ways in which to improve communication and many distributors and suppliers have fantastic programmes and information. The better the standard of information, the more opportunities we will see. COP26 shone a huge spotlight on the marketing and advertising industry and we are expected to act – not just react. The World Federation of Advertisers reported at the AdNetZero summit in November last year that 95% of marketers can make a difference in the sustainability journey and 92% of consumers agree brands have a responsibility to change consumer behaviour. There is an opportunity to communicate the way our industry can be part of this change so look out for more initiatives from the BPMA on this. We’re part of a number of Government and wider advertising initiatives such as AdNetZero to ensure we are talking directly to end-users.’

In 2021, we also finally made our exit from the EU which brought challenges and opportunities for every UK industry, not just promotional merchandise. However, exporting for our industry continues to be problematic, especially when goods have been sold in the UK but delivered to the EU for distribution or an event.

Andrew Langley, Board Director and founder of Juniper Products says ‘BPMA members are able to take advantage of Resources in the member only section of the website; an export resource which provides extensive guidance and signposts help for our members. The only downside is it does require your own reading and research to identify the specific problems that you may be facing. The BPMA Board and team is in regular contact with Departments for International Trade, Export and Revenue and the Government more generally raising members concerns. We are also pleased to advise our members that we are to join the UK Export Group, run by the Advertising Association, and will be joining forces with other industries in running an “export month”, in a high-profile campaign promoting UK businesses. If you are interested in hearing more about this, talk to myself or the BPMA’.

Running alongside all the themes for getting back on track are the standards the industry holds itself accountable for. With complaint levels rising across the industry, the way in which we operate has perhaps never been under more scrutiny. The expectations for service excellence, communication and transparency are all hygiene factors we expect from every business from the top down. With the spotlight on trading, sustainability, availability and more, it’s critical we stick to great ways of working and seek to improve to make sure the order books we are now seeing full for the first time in 18 months stay that way.

Past President and Board Director looking after standards for the BPMA, Graeme Smith of Cyan Group, states ‘We have to hold ourselves accountable. We have an incredible opportunity after the pandemic to be better, bigger, and bolder and we must keep the great work up. Starting with our Code of Conduct, the myriad of legislation and compliance we have to adhere to and the skills we can gain to have fantastic client relationships, do brilliant business and keep on doing it means we have to do it right. I’m so proud of the work the BPMA has done in recent years to keep upholding its principles to inspire, connect and educate every member. We know projects go wrong and equally being able to address this with solutions, not problems, will mean reputations and clients are more likely to stay.’

The BPMA board has also been busy recruiting new blood with the recent additions of Jamie Marshall, Premier Print and Promotions and Billy Hussain, Alvastone. With interests in standards and educating end users to the obvious benefits of merchandise, Jamie Marshall told PM ‘Joining the Board was a no brainer – I want to give back to an industry that’s been great to me and I want to see it thrive. Marshall, an industry veteran was keen to work with the Board seeing their work in recent years. ‘I’ve watched and seen the Board working together with a strong team to deliver in some very trying times. Being part of the change and future of the BPMA is incredibly exciting’.

Billy Hussain, who joined at the same time as Jamie Marshall explained his reasons for getting involved. ‘Our industry is changing, and we all have a responsibility in creating the right future with our businesses. Never has so much been at stake with so much opportunity to change and grow. As a business with vast experience in manufacturing and sourcing globally, I hope to bring some fresh perspectives and insights into our sustainable journey. Collaborating with the rest of the Board means the best minds are coming together to deliver exceptional support in 2022.’

Together with Board Directors Mark Alderson, responsible for the BRIMAN group, Melissa Chevin championing communication and marketing for the BPMA, Neal Beagles focussed on Europe and events, and Alex Turner on finance, the BPMA heads into 2022 in very strong hands.

After a long few years away from shows, the Merchandise World Peak Season show took place with better than expected results. With visitors only marginally reduced from the 2019 show, the quality and quantity of visitors was praised and provided a successful forerunner to the January 2022 show.

So, things are changing but the orders are coming in, the phones are ringing and fingers crossed we will be looking at not quite normal but as near as possible, first quarter for 2022. With many reporting 2021 saw some of their best months towards the end of the year, here’s to getting back on track and finishing in first place this year.

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