The GPMA, which stands for the Graphics, Print and Media Alliance, was officially launched a year ago at Fespa 2013.
It was established by 7 UK print trade associations (Fespa UK, BAPC, British Coatings Federation, Independent Print Industries Association, Picon, the Process and Packaging Machinery Association, and the Rubicon Network), to provide the sector with one strong voice.
Its aim? To communicate to Government the power of print and its importance to the UK economy. So how’s it doing? I asked vice chairman Peter Kiddell about the alliance’s mission.
When the GPMA was formed a year ago, you said one of its first tasks would be to recruit more associations. I presume the BPIF, with its lobbying mandate, was a focus.
Has the number of members increased and are their particular associations you would still like on board?
We have pulled on board the Flexographic Alliance, Proskills and Two Sides. What we are all aiming to do is make people – not just Government – understand that print is a fundamental process. It’s a bit like coal and oil – it’s been around a long time and is essential to many different aspects of life and industry. And to get them to understand print is not just a piece of paper with carbon black on it. Print is stretching way into other industries. Without print the development of other technologies simply would not happen because it is the most effective way of putting down a controlled thickness of material within a prescribed area.
At the time the GPMA was formed people were sceptical that it would achieve very much - and it has been very quiet. Can you tell us what its key focus has been so far?
The key focus has been understanding how to talk to Government. We have to know how they think – and that can be an interesting chase, because as departments evolve their thinking, we have understand how the information we can provide them is relevant to their evolving needs. And the last year has been a real eye-opener. We’re fortunate to have on board a man who works with Government for the Engineering and Machinery Alliance, and he understands how it all works.
To be honest it’s been a bit of a shock to me. You think you have to talk to Ministers, but no - Ministers do what they are told. You have to communicate with the Civil Service. I thought we could just write and say print’s great, an industry that’s prospering, but no – there’s a whole range of criteria we need to fulfil. If you think you can ‘influence’, then no, you can only provide information for people who are very able and can look at what send and make a call.
We are talking to BIS (Department for Business, Industry and Skills) and were going along a particular route with them – running with them displays and explanations of the industry – and then they changed their requirement. It’s like in business, you gain an advantage by understanding the needs of your customer. The Government is our ‘customer’.
We need to know what they don’t understand about print and pull together a cohesive message that fits with their requirements. To do that we’ve had to talk to the market, conduct survey’s etc. in the printing industry – and you’ll see the results of those in the coming weeks – to establish exactly what information we can provide.
How does the collective work, and which association/s are proving to have the loudest voice and therefore most input?
There are lots of loud voices! Those around the table are all very forceful people. Picon was the catalyst for the formation of the GPMA, but the rest of us are now heavily involved. The point is we all work as a team now. When I first walked in I think we all saw each other as competitors to some degree. But within a couple of meetings all the barriers were down so we can discuss issues of mutual interest.
We have meetings approximately every three months – the next is on 18 June. We have individual tasks and report on how we've done at the meetings where other ideas also get put into the pot.
Being blunt, the reason that the Fespa UK Association [Kiddell is on the Board] is in the GPMA is to recruit more members, by providing more information, and to get that information by working as part of the GPMA – and that’s the same for all the member associations. We’re all there for the benefit of our own associations, and that of course, benefits the industry.
How does the GPMA decide what discussions should have with Government?
We go back to our association memberships and ask what should be brought up via the GPMA. Payment terms, and intermediaries and their effect on innovation and where profits are going are key issues. These are areas Fespa UK Association has with other GPMA associations.
When the GPMA was formed I was expecting to hear rallying calls to arms – the GPMA asking print companies to get behind certain campaigns etc. Is there a place for grassroots involvement in its ‘mission’.
Absolutely. Sat around my association’s boardroom table are people representing nearly half a billions pound’s worth of turnover from print – these are a mixture of big and smaller players and they are feeding their thoughts into us and vice versa.
What is the process for making sure that the industry’s ‘one strong voice’ gets heard by the right people in Government – and especially as the BPIF has its own lobbying remit too?
I think the term ‘one strong voice’ is interesting. At the moment I’d say we are representing a slightly different sector of the industry to the BPIF, which has done a great job over the years. Our membership tends to comprise younger organisations in developing parts of the industry. And what we want to do is integrate this developing, innovative part of the industry with the BPIF’s more traditional and authoritative approach. The BPIF has established routes to Government through the unions, and uses people from unions that are now in the House of Lords, which is very effective. We’d be delighted to work with the BPIF, but we're giving just a slightly different message to Government and the impression I get from the links we have made so far, is that this is appreciated. It wasn’t the BPIF that gave a negative impression about print, but another European organisation which presented the demise of print based on traditional methods and the EU got the message that print was in a dreadful state – simply wrong. I think our positive approach is welcomed by Government. I’m sure we’re singing from the same hymn sheet as the BPIF, but it’s probably a descant!
What topics are currently on the table and what progress is being made?
The issue of payment is a big thing to every association – if we don’t have prompt payment we’re not in business. I say ‘we’ because I’m in business myself.
Also, Government wants to talk about manufacturing. Wants to talk about innovation, production, employment…it’s all about bringing work back into the UK. At the moment we’re still putting print out to China. That’s madness. The print is cheap, but we have superb quality in the UK. But we’ve got to show we can do that consistently. As the GPMA we want to be able to say to Government, here’s an industry where much work is still being outsourced and we need to bring it back home, and the only way we can compete with the Far East is by being very efficient in what we do. We're not going to compete on low cost labour - we need top quality labour using top quality equipment producing top quality print – whether that’s for a magazine or a biomedical sensor.
What is the GPMA’s key focus for the next 12 months?
We’re at the point where we understand now what Government wants and how it works. We now know the message we want to get across to them and what we’ve got to do. It’s taken much longer than we expected. I thought we’d have a couple of meetings and know exactly where we were going, but then our conduit to Government started explaining how you have to present to Government – you're not dealing with people even, you’re dealing with concept and policy. We have to get our message across in a way that fits those concepts and policies without losing control of what we want to say, but do it in a way they want to hear. Or we’re wasting our time. But we’re now at the point of presenting our case.
A lot of the GPMA’ work is obviously done ‘behind the scenes’, but should we expect to hear more noise from the GPMA within the print trade?
Absolutely. As I say, it’s been a learning period and an interesting 12 months. The simple answer is yes!