It’s been a funny old time in recent months. Last year was a time of re-grouping around the marketing industry, a time to lick those wounds, huddle down and wait for a change in the weather, while at the beginning of this year a lot of people were celebrating an industry recovery, only to change their minds a few months down the line.
While the last couple of years have been a little more trough than peak for marketing services agencies, the knock-on effect on the country’s paper industry has been a strong one. Less budgets mean less publications, less publications means less paper. Less paper means less money.
However the last 12 months have seen a gradual light shining at the end of the tunnel. Marketing budgets, to the relief of agencies and paper merchants and mills alike (not to mention the client companies themselves) are starting to pick up.
“I think there has been an improvement when compared to previous years.” Says Daniella Oberti, marketing co-ordinator at Fedrigoni. “We’ve had some very good months. I think it’s the market in general. The economy is recovering and we tend to follow the economy. It seems to be slowly, gradually getting better. I think the market will continue to improve. We’re not expecting a dramatic jump, more of a slight increase over time.”
With an increase in budgets have come additional challenges, however. Environmental concern is on the increase and paper merchants have been forced by the government to take notice. Natasha Hornsey, national design support manager at Robert Horne Group, states: “We have seen a significant growth in the interest in environmental issues surrounding paper and print. The Government's recent policy-change required all printed work for all departments to be produced on paper with a minimum post-consumer waste content of 75 per cent. Robert Horne's Revive range was developed especially in line with these requirements, and it has become one of our best-selling brands. In addition to recycled fibre, the issue of responsible forestry management has also been something of a hot topic during the last year, with environmental labelling schemes like 'FSC' (Forestry Stewardship Commission) now affecting paper makers.”
Environmental issues aren’t the only challenge still facing the industry, either. There are others of potentially much higher risk to the future of the UK paper industry. Despite a gradual upturn in client marketing spend paper merchants throughout the UK are facing another threat to their livelihoods. Paul Cattigan, managing director of Stromsdal UK, remarks: “We’ve been made aware of competition from countries entering the EU and setting up paper mills. There’s a more global perspective on where you buy paper these days, but a lot of the business going overseas would have traditionally come to the UK. We’ve clearly seen the effect over the last couple of years. There’s an over supply, certainly in board products, in the UK now. There’s just not the business here anymore.
“There was a merchant based down in Leicester that went out of business just a couple of months ago. They just vanished into thin air. It’s an example of a company being unable to maintain a business in a declining marketplace.”
It’s a very real problem for the Scottish and UK markets and one which has already begun to take its toll on companies throughout the country. With design companies increasingly going overseas for their paper requirements, even an upturn in the marketing industry may not be able to help the market as it moves forward.
Cattigan believes the answer is in client service. He explains: “What they’ve got to focus on is their service aspect. The UK has been seen in the past as Treasure Island because companies could always charge more for their products here, and paper and board were the same. But it’s changed now, and there needs to be a much greater transparency with your clients.”
This increase in customer service could include a closer working relationship with the design consultancies themselves. It’s a route some of the paper merchants are keen to explore. Oberti says: “It’s a difficult process but that’s what we’d like to do – to influence the thinking process of the designers, to become like a consultant at the beginning of the design process.”
Graham Sturzacker, creative director at brand consultancy Elmwood, also believes that a closer relationship between the paper mills themselves and designers could help in future. He says: “Paper mills in Europe tend to be a lot better at approaching designers than the mills here. They take you out there and show you where the paper comes from, and how they make the various types. I’ve been to visit a mill in Sweden but I don’t think I’ve ever been invited to a mill in the UK, so that’s definitely something they could be doing better. They could be inviting designers round to their mills, explaining the processes of how their papers are made, building up those relationships.”
Hornsey, however, says that the onus is on the design community to continue buying quality paper in Scotland. She says: “The world market is changing and different areas of the world are now manufacturing and selling paper. But for the last few years 70 per cent of the paper that is printed in Britain has been imported anyway, so there’s not that much of a change. One area which is affected is the area of creative, high quality papers, which are manufactured here. The paper that comes from abroad tends to be the cheaper coated paper. If designers want the range of quality papers then they are going to have to continue buying it here. If they don’t then the marketplace will shrink. It won’t happen quickly, it’ll be more like in fifty years designers will start to say ‘you know, there’s just not the choice anymore.”
It looks like a two-way process is the answer moving forward. Paper mills in the UK could become more aggressive in promoting their wares and services, while designers could stipulate to their printers that paper should, if possible, be bought in Britain. As client spend slowly climbs upwards and design budgets start to recover, it seems only fair that the country’s paper industry should feel the peaks as well as the troughs.