Do print this e-mail! Communicating for the future of the pulp and paper industry

Although the paper industry has made real strides in reshaping and building its reputation in recent years, it will have to significantly increase the impact of its communications if it is to convince a world increasingly sceptical of its long-term future.

While times are tough for most industries, the European paper and pulp industry faces a number of complex and particularly profound challenges, including the growing impact of online and digital media, increasing competition from China, stagnant demand and increasing regulatory demands.

But the real challenge can be summed up by the frequently-seen exhortation “Do not print this email”.  In five words, the industry’s challenge is captured.  A digital world, infinitely more efficient and sustainable than a paper one – isn’t it?

Sustainable or not

The pulp and paper sector has made significant advances in terms of environmental sustainability over recent decades. The development of FSC certification (much copied in other industries), increases in sustainable forest management and carbon sequestration, massive increases in recycling rates, and clean technology-driven sulphur reductions. The sector is also the biggest industrial producer of bio-energy in Europe, and has a legitimate claim to being one of the world’s most sustainable industries.

Yet, despite this reality, most people still have little or not knowledge of its contribution to sustainability. The worrying and grossly unfair belief that the industry is somehow an ‘evil deforester’ and ‘major climate change contributor’ persists – a fact confirmed by recent research released by IPSOS.

Their survey of 4,500 European consumers found that the paper and pulp sector is still viewed as the single most damaging industry for forests, and is seen to be as harmful as construction and even worse than fossil fuels. A whopping 76% of consumers believe there is a connection between paper manufacture and the loss of tropical rainforests; and 80% believe that forests in Europe have remained the same or decreased in size over the past 50 years – where the reality is that they have actually increased by 30%. It also found that consumer’s understanding of the extent of, and industry role in, paper recycling was very limited.

These mistaken perceptions have allowed, perhaps encouraged, lawmakers to impose ever-more-stringent legislation and regulations on the industry, both at EU and national level; placing a disproportionate burden on paper and pulp manufacturers in the years to come. Overturning these perceptions and positioning the industry as a key player in terms of Europe’s response to climate change and sustainable manufacturing is absolutely essential if the industry is to maximize its influence over the rapidly evolving regulatory and legislative framework.


The industry believes, but it is the consumer that counts (image courtesy of Sappi)

This is not, however, a cost free approach because as the industry’s relevance and future is increasingly cast in terms of environmental sustainability, so awareness will build that there is also the “right type of paper” in environmental terms. The pressure on companies “lagging behind” in terms of their own environmental performance will dramatically increase. They will have to quite literally put up or shut down.

It’s a digital future – or is it?

But even more dangerous is the erroneous linkage of this ‘unsustainable” industry with disruptive digital technologies which, happily say paper’s enemies, make it irrelevant to the future. Certainly, at first glance, the rise of digital communication represents an absolutely fundamental challenge to the pulp and industry; one that, according to some, threatens its very existence.

However, everybody within the industry understands that the reality is very different. And so do consumers when asked.  The industry knows that it makes no sense to push back history, and engage in some “either-or” battle against digital communication. Rather, it has to more self-confident in presenting the reality: that the rise of digital tools and content in no ways undermines the unique and complementary role paper has to play in meeting modern communication needs. Paper vs digital is not a zero-sum game.

Encouragingly, recent surveys confirm that there remains a very strong emotional attachment to paper even amongst the “digital natives” – those aged 18-24 years – with 83% preferring to read from paper rather than off a screen. The industry must harness the considerable emotional bond all of us with paper, build a clearer understanding, and contrast, between the sustainability benefits of paper on the one hand, and people’s digital footprints on the other.

Creating a more positive and long-term narrative

Far too many people still think that the pulp and paper industry in Europe is old-fashioned and low-tech, of marginal economic importance and environmentally damaging. This is not the basis upon which the industry can maximize its influence on the political and regulatory process, respond to the challenges of the digital age, or shore up and increase its growth prospects.

Psychologically, it is always more difficult to be positive in times of difficulty, but that is exactly what the industry must do. The industry needs to develop and embrace a more positive narrative and this needs to be communicated with real belief and vigour.

This narrative must emphasise the positive contributions that the industry is already making in terms of driving sustainability – in its broadest sense – explain the ongoing importance and value of paper in a digitalized world, and reposition the industry as dynamic and innovation driven. Crucially, it must also provide a long-term vision for the future of the industry: one that positions the industry as relevant and vital to our future.

The industry also needs to rethink the ways in which it communicates this narrative externally. This is partly about greater industry wide coordination, greater creativity and embracing new media. Crucially, it is also about every company galvanizing its own people; turning them into genuine ambassadors for the industry. This means making everybody, whether they work in accounts or on the shop floor, and not just customer facing personnel, genuinely proud of the industry and equipping them with the tools – often very simple – to although them to make the case for the industry.

It’s the consumers, stupid!

All too often B2B industries still think of consumers as falling ‘outside their mandate’; this is something for B2C companies to deal with. For the pulp and paper industry the stakes are just too high to delegate this responsibility. Fortunately, this reality has been recognized by many within the industry and significant progress is already being made to take the industry’s message direct to consumers.

The Two Sides project is a notable example of how the industry is taking its message directly to the man in the street. Its objective and messaging is clear: whilst consumers are still showing strong preferences for paper, the industry can do more to teach them about the industry’s role as ‘forest guardian’, its great environmental record and its positive contribution to the growth of Europe’s forests.

At a minimum the industry must counter the guilt that many consumers have about using paper. The industry should however set its ambition levels much higher and aim to convince consumers that by using paper they are actually making a positive contribution to environmental sustainability through reforestation and carbon sequestration.

A campaign approach

Educating consumers and other stakeholders so that they have compelling long-term reasons to value and support the industry is not an easy task. It takes time, and requires a campaign mentality and approach, characterized by frequent communications, through multiple channels and towards a very clear common objective.

The most effective campaigns are built around coalitions. The wider the interests represented, and the more credible they are, the greater their impact. Again, the industry has certainly made significant strides in this direction, but much still needs to be done. In particular, it should make a more concerted and coordinated effort to engage with the environmental NGOs. This will not be straightforward, but the more the industry is aligned with, and endorsed by, these NGOs, the more powerful its sustainability message will become.

The pulp and paper industry has the raw materials required to reshape its reputation and significantly increase its standing. It can help create a more favourable growth environment, shift perceptions amongst key audiences and increase its influence on political and policy developments.  But to do so, it needs to be more self-confident.  It must create a more compelling industry wide narrative, engage more directly with us all, and find the strength to say to say ‘hey, print that mail! It’s OK!”

Frans Green

The Bio-Based Economy Needs a Re-Brand

The bio-based economy is at a critical juncture. Unfortunately for anyone that believes in its vast potential for setting the world on a sustainable, prosperous future, it is not clear which path it will take next.

It’s October 28. We’re in Amsterdam, at the European Forum for Industrial Biotech, Europe’s leading conference for industrial biotech. The mood is upbeat: numbers are up and there is a frisson in the conference hall and break-out areas. The meeting ‘pods’ are all in use.

And there’s much to talk about. Second generation biofuels, for long a laboratory curiosity, are on the verge of commercialization. Bio-based chemical production is scaling up. Big corporates – from soft drinks to car makers – are getting behind bio-based materials. Critical mass seems within reach, technology is rattling along, yet all is not well.

The problem is communication. Proponents are convinced the BBE is A Good Thing; that their technology will help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, fend off climate change and help the world become a better place but the world at large doesn’t see it this way. The media too often relates the bio-based economy to high food prices and questionable land use change and energy firms are dropping biofuels from their marketing: little wonder, then, that governments are having second thoughts about how much support they extend to the sector.

To be fair, none of this is lost on the industry and kudos to Europabio, EFIB’s organiser, for placing the issue of communication high on the agenda. Rein Willems, a former president of Shell Nederland, used his keynote to warn that NGO opposition was slowing the bio-based economy’s progress, while leading lights such as DSM and Novozymes all called for transparency, social inclusion and better communications.

Can the bio-based economy become A Good Thing once more? Undoubtedly yes. Technology and international agreements will help, but it’s a communications failure that got the industry where it is today and it’s communications that will, largely, get it out again.

Let’s look at what hasn’t worked so far. The industry’s biggest failure has been in exciting, inspiring, educating and explaining to the world. Coming up with a viable way of weaning ourselves off our dependence on fossil fuels should have been an open goal; somehow it became an own goal.
Another strategic mistake was to underestimate the strength of opposition from vested interests. Whenever there are winners, there are losers and when they comprise whole industries, cities, communities, there’s always going to be a fight back.

All of which requires a concerted response. In communications, we talk about platforms a lot but this is what the bio-based economy needs; to consolidate support, convey relevance and inspire hope. There are plenty of potential supporters out there who just don’t yet realise it: farmers that can make a second income, rural development agencies that can secure new investment and infrastructure, environmental organisations that want to see CO2 emissions cut, members of the public that want an alternative to constantly rising fuel prices.

This may require some fresh thinking. If the bio-based economy doesn’t work as a moniker for the new green industrial revolution, then let’s get a new name. If the word biofuel has become toxic then let’s call second generation fuels something else.

It definitely means digging in for the long haul. The bio-based economy is still a young idea with a lot of promise and nothing to hide. It needs a champion to campaign on its behalf, to sharpen its arguments, to raise its profile by making it more relevant, passionate and exciting to the world at large. The idea will never win everyone over, least of all the fossil fuel industry – and those who cannot be convinced needs to be engaged, and defeated in open debate. If the industry can achieve this, the path to realising the massive potential of the bio-based economy will be open.

Oliver Cann

Health, really is affecting our wealth.

The traditional long summer break certainly hasn’t materialized this year, with Europe’s politicians trading their characteristic migration to the beach, for lengthy meetings and conference calls to deal with jittery markets and beleaguered economic forecasts.  It doesn’t take a tarot reader to predict that policies designed to stimulate economic growth will be  top priority in September as Brussels gets back to business, but what about bigger picture policies affecting other aspects of our well-being?

In the field of health policy, the global spotlight will clearly be on the UN’s Summit on non-communicable diseases (NCD) in September.  This is only the second time in the history of the UN that the General Assembly will meet together with Heads of State and Government to join forces on an emerging health issue.  Heart disease, strokes, cancer, respiratory diseases and diabetes are quite literally the biggest killers on the planet.  Reading some of the WHO’s own stark statistics, the ups and downs of the stock market look more like the whimsy of the casino in comparison..

And yet, in order to obtain the media and political attention this topic deserves, it too, needs to play the economic card.  With nine million people dying of non-communicable diseases before the age of 60, these diseases are, according to Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, delivering a ‘two punch blow to economies and development’.  The WHO emphasizes that NCDs result in literally hundreds of billions of lost dollars in the national product of developing countries, and that workforces are measurably shrinking as a result, thereby curtailing economic growth.

Yet more cause for pessimism?  Not necessarily. Whilst the future of the global economy might indeed seem like a game of chance, when it comes to preventing NCDs, there are many cost-effective solutions, or as the WHO puts it, ‘Best Buys’ which can reduce risks and cut treatment costs.  In the developed world, the private sector, civil society and governments are already working in partnership to tackle these issues, but expectations for the Summit are high.  The challenge is also to scale-up efforts in low and middle-income countries too, where the disease burden really bites.

So alongside all the headlines and turmoil of bond markets, the eurozone debt crisis, and austerity measures, September is also likely to bring a stark reminder of the message that health, really is affecting our wealth.

Rosemary Stone

“Events, dear boy. Events”

“Events, dear boy. Events” opined Harold McMillan when asked what is most likely to blow governments off course. For someone who has played a substantive role in shaping the global news agenda and knowing more than anyone about how the unpredictable becomes the unmanageable, Rupert Murdoch has played a pretty poor game in dealing with the events of the last fortnight.

The Guardian’s story alleging that News of the World journalists hacked into the voicemail of missing 13-year-old Milly Dowler and had deleted voicemail messages was the trigger point for the tsunami of opprobrium which rightly rained down first on NoTW, then News International and subsequently News Corporation. From high and mightly news media mogul to the ‘humble’, shaving-foam smeared old man mumbling on global television.  Events, dear boy.

But in communication terms, what should we make of News Corp’s reaction?

Strategically and strangely inept on the whole. While dramatic, the closure of the NoTW simply looked like a tactic to preserve News Corp’s long-running bid for the 61% of BSkyB that it doesn’t already own. It also beggared belief that Rebekah Brooks, who has editor of the NoTW when Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked, had not resigned. If, as reported, her resignation was offered but rejected, then Rupert Murdoch has only himself to blame.

History is already judging Murdoch Senior’s ill-advised comment that saving Brooks was his number one priority. Throwaway line or serious assessment of his priorities, Murdoch’s comment looks increasingly like his Gerald Ratner moment – crass, offensive and highly damaging. Not just when you balance the fate of one woman against that of hundreds, not to mention a 150 year old newspaper, but also in what it shows about the attitude of the sender.  Just like Mrs Thatcher’s other favourite industrialist, Sir Jeffrey Sterling – who famously returned from holidaying in the Caribbean to address media after the Townsend Thoresen disaster still wearing his Bermuda shorts – Rupert Murdoch arrived palpably out of touch with British emotion.

This only emphasises how News Corporation’s response has been characterised by naivety. The company didn’t appear to grasp the rapid change in sentiment towards the family and the company; they didn’t grasp that fast-moving media-driven events generate a life of their own; and, most astonishingly, they didn’t seem to recognise that long-held hostilities toward the Murdochs would be used to give the story a (frequently unjustified) life of its own.

Given Rupert Murdoch and many of the people who work for him wrote the book on much that is now coming home to haunt him, this is doubly bizarre. The Murdoch’s have made billions of dollars by either creating or exploiting a media feeding frenzy and yet they appear not to have seen this coming.  Inexcusable.

The cowboy that swaggered into London last weekend has been replaced by the penitent who visited the parents of Milly Dowler, head in hands apparently, and ‘umbled ‘imself before the mighty Home Affaris Select Committee. The change in strategy by News Corp, including full-page adverts in newspapers throughout last week, was though, too late. Apologies and more apologies – but the NoTW and News Corp have set a ball rolling now that they have lost the power to stop.

And more than that.  The myth of invincibility has gone. Like any brand, much of what people believed about News Corp was in the legend. The power, the influence.  Up in smoke.  Now we drag them to give testimony before people they would have laughed at before.  And we can.  And they did.

News Corp will be praying for another news story to knock this one of the top of the new agenda – as the world’s top media executives they will understand that news is relative.  And, unlike most brands in trouble, they have the power to try to find one, and run it.

But the lesson is that brands are fragile, even those that we think are the most powerful.  Something small and local blew up in the face of Mr Murdoch Snr and his entourage, and, believing their own hype, they let it spiral out of control.  The cost was huge, even in the short term, with the loss of the Sky TV deal.  Long-term who knows what it might mean.  The old man brushed off the shaving foam; he won’t brush off the consequences of under-estimating a crisis so easily.

James Hunt and Toby Nicol

PR on the front Page

It is not often that the activities of PR consultants make the front page of a British national newspaper.  After all, our job is to promote the client – not make the news ourselves.  But this morning Nick Davies’ article on the front page ofThe Guardian suggested that both of the Murdoch’s had been heavily coached for the session.  Indeed, when asked by one of the select committee whether they had been coached they said that they had been told to tell the truth and be as transparent as possible.

But having reviewed the session it would seem that the afternoon could be considered something of a result for the Murdoch clan.

Clearly it would have been much better not to be in the position at all, but having painted themselves into something of a corner over the past two years with denial after denial, looking their inquisitors in the eyes and apologising is a good start to defusing what could have been a heated committee session.

It has been widely reported that PR consultancy Edelman has been providing council to the Murdochs on how to handle their appearance in front of the select committee.  It would seem that they did a great job with father and son apologising numerous times and at one point interrupting each other in their rush to demonstrate just how contrite they are.  It was in sharp contrast to Barclay’s CEO Bob Diamond’s appearance in front of select committee in January this year, where sorry was definitely not in his vocabulary.

In fairness, they were helped by a committee that was not tough in its questioning.  Maybe because it is only a matter of weeks since all UK political parties had been close bed fellows with the Murdoch papers in fear of generating negative news and comment.

The aborted attacked on Murdoch senior with a plate of shaving cream at the end of the session by Johnnie Marbles does raise questions  over Westminster security and has go some suggesting that it was planned to illicit sympathy for the 80 year old (a step too far I think).

In summary, a good afternoon’s entertainment that elicited little new information but clearly demonstrated the crucial role that having sound communications advice can go a long way to making a very bad situation a little bit better.

Richard Houghton

PR Evaluation – still a challenge?


Earlier this month I spoke at the annual conference of Association for  Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) in my role as President of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) on what agencies wanted from the evaluation industry.

My argument centred on the need for practical processes and methodologies that both agencies and clients could agree on and accept as simple benchmarks.  Ideally I think some form of standard methodology that we can all buy into needs to be created.   I am convinced that this would mean that the 30-40% of PR campaigns that are not evaluated at all might be measured providing valuable revenue for AMEC members.

One very well thought out and available evaluation approach is AMEC’s validated metrics that can be downloaded here.  It provides a comprehensive framework for the development of PR evaluation programmes.   The UK’s Public Relations Consultants Association announced at the conference that it is introducing an Evaluation module for its Consultancy Management Standard that is based on the Validated Metrics.


One of  the questions I was asked at the conference is why agencies continue to provide advertising value equivalent (AVE) scores to clients, when they were ‘officially’ discredited in the Barcelona Principles at AMEC’s previous conference.

My response was simple.

Consultancies are businesses and if their customers want a particular form of evaluation that the finance director can understand then they will provide them.  I accept that AVEs do not provide the insight that formal evaluation gives and the associated planning benefits, but commercial reality will win out.  Arun from the Holmes Report picked this up and filmed a short interview.


Attendees at the conference all voted on what the evaluation priorities for the coming year should be:

1.       How to measure the return on investment (ROI) of public relations (89%)

2.       Create and adopt global standards for social media measurement (83%)

3.       Measurement of PR campaigns and programmes needs to become an intrinsic part of the PR toolkit (73%)

4.       Institute a client education program such that clients insist on measurement of outputs, outcomes and business results from PR programs (61%)

In summary, the Barcelona principles were a great starting point and the priorities identified in Lisbon have moved the debate on but there is still work to be done before evaluation is part and parcel of every PR campaign.

Richard Houghton

Ryanair’s Chinese takeaway


Ryanair is not everyone’s favourite company, but it should be congratulated on the announcement that it plans to work with Chinese aircraft manufacturer, Comac, to develop a new aircraft type.
The Irish airline company is living embodiment that “low-cost airlines fly Boeings” – a marketing slogan dreamed-up by the boys in Seattle to corner the low-cost market. The three biggest low-cost airlines at the time (Southwest, easyJet and Ryanair) certainly gave Boeing all the ammunition it needed – as they all operated the 737 family exclusively. This was the case until easyJet first broke the cycle in 2002 with a big order from Airbus that has underpinned the European company’s advancement in the sector.

Ryanair, realising that its Boeing-only fleet severely hampered its negotiating position for expensive new aircraft, withdrew from all discussions with Boeing last year. This was initially perceived as  a negotiating ploy, but the Comac announcement puts that decision in a different light – and it would have profound implications for the big two manufacturers.

For years, airlines have been hamstrung by the reluctance of Boeing and Airbus to develop a successor to the 737 and A320 families of narrow-body aircraft. These are mostly used for carrying 150-180 people on short distances, which is why they are particularly beloved of the big low-cost airlines with their short flights. Despite the economic and environmental pressure to produce a new aircraft type that allows airlines to better deal with the reality of oil at $120 per barrel, Toulouse and Seattle have steadfastly refused to play ball.

Economically, that stance makes sense. Developing an entire new family of aircraft is a lengthy ordeal that is fraught with operational, financial and reputational risk. Boeing and Airbus have both had their fair share of new-product disasters recently; experiences from the A380 superjumbo to the 787 Dreamliner mean both companies approach the develop of new aircraft types looking like a recalcitrant schoolboy being dragged to school after the holidays.

After years of amortising the development costs of their short-haul offerings, both Airbus and Boeing are making good profits from running the production lines for the 737 and A320. With no apparent move from the other side of this cosy duopoly, this could continue to do this for years; which is what worries the airlines.

No amount of private or public pressure seems to have had an impact. easyJet attempted to embarrass the big two into making a move in 2007 when it produced its ecoJet concept – a radically different design but based wholly on technology already in the pipeline. It could have flown within five years given a strong enough commitment.

But with Boeing and Airbus resembling the (un)wise monkeys, the market needed a disruptive third force to make the move first. That is why Ryanair’s deal with Comac could be so exciting. It has sensibly given itself five years to develop a new aircraft that can seat up to 200 passengers and would take advantage of much of the new technology that is available.

If successful, Ryanair gets the economic advantage of being the launch customer of a new fuel-efficient aircraft type. Comac immediately forces itself into the reckoning as a global player.

The pressure is now on Boeing to react. Does it re-open negotiations with Ryanair at a lower price? Or respond to market forces by developing a new generation of short-haul aircraft which Airbus would be forced to copy. In communications terms, there are implications for both Boeing and Airbus – the risk is that they begin to look slow-footed and behemoths of the 20th century, punting old-school planes more suited to 1995 than 2015.

Not for the first time, Ryanair has managed to wrong-foot the big boys.

Toby Nicol


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