Mon, May

IR Talks to... Brendan Perring, general manager, IPIA

Covid-19 has knocked everyone for six, but I’ve got to say, the IPIA has been really quick and forceful in its actions. Back in March, and together with the then separate BAPC, it produced an impact statement on the print industry for the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). 

It continually called for industry input and in September, as part of the Graphics and Print Media Alliance (GPMA), called on Government for a means-tested disaster relief grant fund for the UK print industry. In October it got a reply, basically saying ‘we’ve heard you’. Do you believe all the hard work will pay off, and that the plight of the print industry will be taken seriously by those in power? Historically, its cry has been largely ignored.

The short answer is yes. The hard work has paid off and will have a lasting legacy as we have worked so closely with senior civil servants to assist them with policy development. We are around the table at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, our industry has put itself back on the political map through the mass MP letter-writing campaign, and I am confident that our relationship with Government is only going to grow and strengthen. And that very much extends to large-format as we have been sure to represent its interests too.

The longer answer is that you are bang on about being largely ignored historically, but it’s a subtle story. When you think, 25 years ago, commercial print was still the most powerful and ubiquitous form of marketing and communication available - it was like turning on the taps and expecting water. It was that exact dominance and strength that became its greatest weakness - it didn’t need to have strong multi-organisation Government lobbying because it didn’t need it, so it didn’t develop a culture of representing itself to those in power, or indeed to major print buying professionals such as marketers, procurement officers and designers.

When the commercial print industry began to contract, due to the digital communications explosion, its great and good just didn’t realise that ebbing away inside Government and these sectors was an understanding of our industry, the value and strength of its products, the challenges it faced and the support it needed.

When it comes to large-format, it grew out of what was really a cottage industry of sign-makers, design agencies, map printers, drawing offices and copy shops that were very disparate and so just did not have a cohesive voice. This is changing though, as its supply chains and market identity solidifies.

To be clear, there has been really good work done by the BPIF, BSGA and organisations such as Two Sides and Print Power, but there was such a massive number of challenges that trying to campaign and gain ground on any one front is tough work. Compare that to the resources that Microsoft, Apply, Google, Twitter, Facebook and so fourth have had to represent their interests.

That is why the GPMA was founded, to bring together all the associations and create a unified voice for print and all its allied industries. Its purpose has now been used effectively during this campaign. And the difference this time is that this single big issue gave us a platform to effect change and get support, as we could clearly demonstrate that if it didn’t act, the Government was risking a £14bn sector and hundreds of thousands of jobs. That placed the GPMA, IPIA, BAPC and BPIF at the centre of an effort to support the industry.

That work, together with trade associations from across manufacturing industries, has led to some big wins: 80% flexible furloughing and its renewal for lockdown II, tax relief, rent protection, local authority grants and Government backed loans.

Wide-format has perhaps been a victim of its own success - it hasn’t been in the dire straights of ‘commercial’ print and thus had little reason to call on trade associations to amplify its voice. Does the IPIA have much contact with this sector? 

We have been really focussed on ensuring that wide-format print’s voice has not gone unheard. Hundreds of our trade print members have a strong presence in this field, part of the migration of consumer retail and trade printers that have diversified into the sector - and so we could generate really good data to provide to Government.

In addition, we count Epson, Roland DG, Fujifilm, Printmax, YPS, Antalis, Premier Paper, Stanford Marsh, Canon, EFI, HP, Ricoh, Sign and Digital UK and Vivid as members, so we have a strong conduit of business intelligence and data from the sector.

As some will know, I was the editor of ‘SignLink’ magazine for nine years, and so I have deep understanding, and abiding passion for large-format print. Its predicament has varied. The explosion in demand for Covid-19 safety graphics and signage for retail environments especially helped mitigate the huge loss in markets such as sports, retail, hospitality and leisure. But that said, it has been a bubble that has burst for many and they are suffering just as badly as those in commercial print.

Our industry-wide surveys have seen a good representation from large-format print specialists, and what we see is that because it has so many more micro-businesses and SMEs, the Government help is proving more effective. By comparison, commercial print businesses with a turnover of £20m + have seen huge damage to their businesses that the support has not been able to nearly cover.

It’s ironic really, that the print industry hasn’t traditionally been very good at communicating its own message to the wider world. You have said a core problem is that the print industry doesn’t do enough evangelising. Agreed! I’ve been championing the idea of print ‘ambassadors’ for years now. The IPIA has its ‘Heroes’ programme. Do you have many large-format orientated ‘Heroes’? Do you need more, and what are the criteria?  

Yes, we are very happy that Canon, EFI distributor Konica Minolta, Vivid and Antalis represent large-format as part of Heroes. It is an IPIA initiative to create positive communications and change our industry voice for good. Our industry is facing misconceptions on its resilience, sustainability and future. For too long the industry has been negative in its messaging, both internally and probably more importantly externally, giving fuel to the idea that print is no longer a relevant and appropriate channel. We believe we must now drive a new conversation to address volume decline with fresh thinking and an entrepreneurial attitude.

We must address common monikers such as ‘print is dead’ with a rallying cry to embrace the changes and encourage discovery of innovations that deliver game changing results through print.

We always welcome new members of the group, and if you would like to find out more about getting involved just let me know (brendan@ipia.org.uk).

We both know there’s loads of innovation and creativity within the large-format space that could create real resonance with would-be print buyers – and which would help strengthen the perception of print to  those in the outside world. Are many large-format PSPs currently members of the IPIA? If so, are they very active?

We have seen large numbers of print members diversify very strongly into large-format print. When it comes to the BAPC members, most of whom are business-to-consumer SME printers and copy shops in retail units, I would say that 99% have a wide-format printer and laminator so they can say ‘yes’ to such work.

Both memberships are very much engaged, as we have focussed very heavily for the last six years especially on quality members and building long-term connections with them. We know each and every member on a first name basis, understand their challenges and goals and work with them to leverage our resources and benefits to assist with achieving them.

What kind of cultural shifts do you think need to take place to enable print to thrive in a post Covid-19 and post Brexit Britain? 

There is so much opportunity for print businesses that focus on being flexible and adaptive in terms of targeting new growth markets and focussing on profitability over sheer volume revenue generation. This is the most important cultural shift that needs to take place. Our product is not ink on paper, it is enabling everyone from brand to agency marketers and individual business owners to engage and communicate with customers in an effective way. Print in all its myriad of forms is a fantastic delivery method for that product, especially when it forms part of a multi-channel marketing mix.

It’s a designer’s dream to be able to create a really amazing, powerful piece that can engage the senses of their target consumer demographic and know that it won’t be watered down once it has gone through budget approval with the client. This is now possible because printers have technology that can realise that designer’s dream without it breaking the bank in terms of production costs.

What does the IPIA see as its key objective going into 2021 - and what’s it key message to PSPs - large-format ones particularly?  

The IPIA and BAPC intends to continue its crucial role as an industry ambassador championing print, both at Government level and also to major print buying sectors such as marketing.

We are deeply committed to supporting our members and our industry. We pursue this commitment by helping businesses expand their horizons, grow using targeted member collaboration, adapt to ever evolving market forces, and thrive through mutual support.

The value proposition of the IPIA is that its executive and council work hard to make sure every member is pushed to take advantage of all relevant core member benefits and then presented with the specific suite of opportunities to aid business growth appropriate to them they can pick and choose as it suits them.

Our message to PSPs and large-format-print specialists is that the value of belonging to a trade association is that you have a new group of friends that have your back, amplify your voice, connect you to new opportunities and can open your eyes to possibilities you did not know existed.

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