My epic journey from label printer to label service provider

When I received a recent invitation from Stratus Packaging, a FINAT member, I jumped at the opportunity to attend the event, not only because I have supported FINAT for the last 4 years but above all because I knew it would bring me into the heart of the label converting industry.

March 28th turned out to be a glorious sunny day for the 100 guests who  turned up to the official opening of the Stratus Group’s newly-expanded manufacturing unit in Lille (France). As one of Europe’s larger label converters, the Stratus Group also has plants in Bourg-en-Bresse and Limoges and employs a staff of 225 for a turnover of 37 million euro. The company also has plans for a fourth plant in early May.

The expansion of an additional 1000 m² in Lille will allow for extra storage capacity (both raw materials and finished labels) and the site now boasts a new, additional entry for employees to enter the manufacturing area – which was one of the many prerequisites to become BRC IOP certified. As a result, the Stratus Group will become the first label printer in France to receive BRC IOP certification.

We were warmly welcomed and received a 360° tour that gave us full insight on the Group’s automated back-office support, prepress, printing processes and warehousing  capabilities.

Host and managing director Isidore Leiser introduced Stratus Packaging experts who took us through the newest developments and initiatives taken to stay abreast of the latest technologies, regulatory requirements and customer demands.

"The label printing industry has become a ‘service business’," said Mr. Leiser. "In the past, label converters were primarily printers. Today, they have had to evolve to become full service providers. It has become crucial to provide additional, more efficient and flexible services that can help to differentiate us as a mid-sized player on what remains a very competitive market."

I learned that to support and drive growth, the Stratus Group opts for long-term strategy and initiatives including:

  • a strong ERP backbone to streamline the business processes
  • a lean manufacturing approach to optimise costs
  • state-of-the art prepress processes and printing equipment that guarantee quality and speed
  • certification programmes to meet ongoing regulatory, qualitative or environmental requirements, in particular in the food hygiene sector

These strategic initiatives have resulted in being able to produce high-quality labels, offer sharper prices and fulfill orders faster. Additional benefits include delivering and storing on demand, providing better service and increasing customer satisfaction.

One visitor, looking at some sample labels on display, expressed how impressed he was with the level of quality and even asked to what extent and at what cost could the boundaries of perfection be pushed further in this industry. It clearly demonstrated that the Stratus Group is not a multiple FINAT label award winner by sheer luck!

Upon my return a couple of days later, I was happily surprised to receive a personalised thank you note with a brief satisfaction survey. For me, it showed the Group’s continuous engagement in expanding and improving the quality of its services, and definitely an initiative that helps improve customer loyalty.

Attending trade fairs is one thing, receiving a personal tour on the actual ‘printing’ floor and adjacent facilities of a company certainly ticked all my boxes and made this label visit a very rewarding experience.

Lut Verschueren - duomedia

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A brave new world - RadTech Europe 13

RadTech Europe actually ran its 13th edition of this biannual conference/exhibition and celebrated 25 years of its members’ achievements in UV/EB curing.  It was well attended by around 400 delegates from around the world. The conference was an excellent opportunity to learn about what is new in the scientific arena, in regulatory and health and safety concerns, and in innovation across a broad spectrum of applications.

It was the presentation of Paul Kelly, Perstorp (SE) and RadTech Europe marketing committee member, that provided me, ’ lay(wo)man in this market’, with an excellent insight and overview of the current market profile.  And just like in any other  markets, the market for energy curing needs to identify new capacity to keep the industry on track. In 2010, it represented 1.9% of the global coatings market, projected the growth by the end of 2013 to 3% and 3.9% in 2014.  Worldwide, most applications can be found  in industrial coatings (44%), OP lacquers have a 21% share, electronics applications 19%, and printing inks 12%.

In Europe, the DACH region claims the largest market share of 40%.  In terms of end-use markets, wood coating is by far the most important, representing 38% of usage, with OP lacquers and printing inks joining second place with 22% of the market.

Trends and innovations

Current market trends emerge in the area of inkjet, field applied floor coatings, water-based UV, UV LED and developments in 3D technology.  And innovative applications include marble repair on and offsite, cosmetic fingernail decoration, repairs to car windscreens, dental curing tasks, textiles and clothing, inkjetted solar panels, membrane panels and the production of contact lenses.

Graphic arts

In the graphic arts markets, there are differences in predicted growth rates.   Between 2011 and 2016, packaging use will grow at an estimated 24%, but UV inkjet print for labels and flexible packaging will see an estimated 250% growth over the same period.

Environmental considerations are as strong in the market for printing inks as elsewhere, and of all the environmentally-friendly ink technologies, UV inks are the fastest growing.   UV inkjet inks are a major global growth opportunity, accelerating to an estimated 38% of the total market by 2017.  

Industrial coatings

In Europe, industrial coatings’ geographical growth to the east of Europe is evidenced, alongside significant technology shifts reflecting increased emphasis on energy costs, weatherability and corrosion resistance, among other factors, and increased interest in water-based UV and EB systems.

I have enjoyed meeting with many RadTech Europe committee members, to gain additional insight in how this association operates and understand how we at duomedia can further build on their PR programme, and this with the help of many volunteering members. And I’m grateful for the industry’s relentless pursuit for more sustainable and innovative applications that makes our daily lives in many respects more comfortable and enjoyable.

Lut Verschueren, duomedia

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David Helsby, President of RadTech Europe, opening address at ‘RadTech Europe 13’



Producing content for events: a twelve-step checklist

Over the years I’ve become more creative in the way I provide event support to clients. I’ve learned that an integrated, multi-platform approach not only offers them more ‘mileage’ from their PR investment, it’s also far more engaging and improves how we relate to one another (the collaboration process is even good fun).

When a company announces its participation at a trade event, or organizes an event of their own, they’re effectively planting a seed for a full-cycle communication project. The FINAT congress, for example, is the highlight of the trade association’s year. The communication output before, during and after the event are like building blocks. By adopting various communication tools and tactics to deliver different messages to stakeholders concerned, we can boost the impact of the content we create together.  In this instance it is the result of a proactive approach and respectful collaboration between the project owners at Lejeune Management Association (FINAT’s secretariat), a group of FINAT members/volunteers and duomedia. 

The crucial component of any content is relevance, so that it grabs recipients’ attention. This sounds obvious – why would any business produce irrelevant content? However, you’d be surprised how many companies fall into the trap of producing content that’s relevant to their business, but not necessarily to their customers and prospects. Remember, good content is all about helping customers and prospects overcome their business challenges, and should offer something that helps make their working lives easier.  

Taking the FINAT annual congress as an example, below is a twelve-step checklist for communicating about this event.

Pre-event

1. Map out a strategy and messaging, and define which communication channels will be used to reach the stakeholders

2. Make a pre-announcement to the trade press – make the media and delegates aware of the event and ask them to ‘save the date’.

3. Issue a detailed programme announcement – flesh out what you’re offering at the event, who the key speakers are and why delegates should free up time to attend.

4. Draft a comprehensive feature article that elaborates on the theme of the congress.

5. Draft a comprehensive feature article on the collaboration between FINAT and the national labelling associations in Europe (such as the joint organization of the annual congress)

During the event 

6. Highlight the success of FINAT’s PR programme by demonstrating the results and return on investment to FINAT members:

·       Cover a table-top area with media coverage highlights of the past year

·       Run a video projection of media coverage highlights on the main stage

·       Produce an insert for the FINAT yearbook, detailing the impact of duomedia’s media activity over the past 12 months

7. Report on the congress in real time by tweeting about the action from the congress as it happens.

8. Capture footage of the congress by recording interviews with FINAT members discussing the benefits of FINAT membership and award entries.

9. Announce the FINAT award winners and provide an accompanying press kit

After the event

10. Draft a feature article on the European label market, outlining trends and providing statistics from 2012, as well as making predictions for the sector’s future.

11.  Promote the FINAT award winners by creating testimonials.

12. Write up a review and blog, post video footage on YouTube - we practice what we preach (click here for our video)

And it’s important to assess results after the event, matching these to your set business objectives - both on quality and quantity level: number of attendees, satisfaction level and engagement.

Obviously, you’ll need to tailor your checklist to your specific event. But the above points should give you a solid base. As for FINAT, we managed to successfully promote the self-adhesive labeling industry and the extended FINAT community. We helped create a more cohesive organization and brought the membership closer together. That’s the power of good content and effective PR!  

 

Lut Verschueren

 

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The Next Big Thing – PR in a digital era

At the end of the ’86 cult classic, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the film’s smooth-tongued hero imparted this pearl of wisdom: “Life moves pretty fast – if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

It’s good advice that could well apply to the PR world. As someone who could politely be described as a PR ‘veteran’ (faxed press releases, anyone?), I’ve seen the communications landscape change dramatically – particularly since the internet age, and again more recently with the dawn of social media. 

Digital has undoubtedly been a game changer. It has given us all the power to build a loyal following and exert influence on groups of people. That’s why today’s PR pro is every bit as likely to target bloggers as they are journalists –sometimes more so.

Digital has also put an end (thankfully) to things like cutting out press clippings from magazines. It’s PDFs and emailed links all the way.

Expensive product photo shoots and snail-mailing the pics are a thing of the past too. We can get snap happy with our mobiles and post high-quality digital shots on Facebook or Pinterest faster than it takes to book an old-school photographer.

And then there are all the social media platforms. It seems barely a month goes by without another new kid on the block vying for our attention, promising to be the Next Big Thing.

So what does all this have to do with Ferris’ nugget of advice? Well, PR life does move pretty fast. And he’s right – if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. Or more specifically, you could miss what’s important.

It’s very easy for communication professionals to get swept along with the latest fads, jumping from social media platform to social media platform, in the never-ending pursuit of effective stakeholder engagement.

But sometimes it’s worth taking a step back and reminding ourselves that for all the wonder of digital, some old-school PR truths remain.

No matter what channel you’re using, you’re going to need a strategy. Thousands of pictures on Pinterest mean nothing if there’s no thought to how this activity supports your business objectives. 

Then there’s the message itself. It should be consistent and truthful – more important than ever in the digital domain, where a quick Google search can reveal any ‘discrepancies’ in your online output. 

And as ever, the content needs to be engaging. It should be of real value to stakeholders. It should interest them. Be useful to them. Excite them, even. 

So in actual fact, we’re still largely doing the same stuff we’ve been doing since the early days of PR. Just without all the envelope stuffing and paper cuts.    

Lut Verschueren 

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How to Label The Future?

Labelling the future is a challenge for the label industry, in the face of the exceptional change that is happening on many fronts. A developing palette of label technologies and alternative options; the ‘cloud’ business environment; the urgent need for succession change in SMEs;  making the decision to stay local, serve a specialty market segment, or go international;   maturing geographical markets versus the emerging economies… 

Technology innovation

Technology innovation is changing the face of the entire print industry;  and as commercial print dwindles in the face of downloadable reading matter, packaging print is growing exponentially. It is the key area where the consumer relies on a product’s physical brand image to confirm its quality, reliability, and desirability. Today’s modular presses make it possible to use multiple ‘traditional’ print processes – UV flexo, screen, foil blocking – in the one machine pass – as well as digital print for personalisation, barcoding, etc. What is more, the new-generation digital label presses deliver high-quality print results too; and today’s sophisticated digital pre-press solutions make design, proofing, and even product prototyping fast and easy – even if the client is thousands of miles away. Short-run work and multi-versioning of generic brand labels are now firmly part of a label converter’s remit. There have never been so many options.

Lean and green

At a time when brand owners are concerned to keep costs as low as possible, optimise profits, and still present a ‘green’ image to the consumer, lean manufacturing and sustainable practices must also be central to the label converter’s activities.  

E-commerce has long been a key to the effective running of the relationship between labelstock supplier and label converter, and today’s ‘back office’ at the label converter can be seamlessly integrated with the front end. Using today’s most up-to-date systems, which match those of the customers, is key.

Where next?

Specialisation is one route: there are successful label printing companies serving specialist industries. Alternatively, companies can look to extend their reach from being a ‘local’ supply base, to cross-border trading and, then, an international presence - achieved either independently or as a result of establishing partnerships and alliances with like-minded companies in other countries. Finally, of course, there are mergers and acquisitions – today an area where we are seeing very strong activity.  

Label – the future?

Whatever is to come, the future will still need a label. The intrinsic function of a label is to identify the contents of a package. We have come a long way from the handwritten ‘label’ on a brown paper bag (probably the first example of direct print – a labelling method that still has currency today!) There are wet-glue labels, self-adhesive labels, shrink and stretch sleeves, in-mould labels… and now we can learn about a product through scanning QR code on its packaging.   But we still have to be able to pick the right product from the retail shelf – and only a physical label of some kind can enable us to do that.

Lut Verschueren

Based on article by FINAT.

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The sweet effect of PR - reflection on #prosweets

Two weeks ago we organized a press conference for the industry association EuroWaxPack at the confectionary trade fair ProSweets (Köln, Germany).  Although this was duomedia’s first PR project for EuroWaxPack, the impact has been significant.  Looking back I try to identify the key success criteria and in my opinion it boils down to a lot of common sense, which is unfortunately often astray, even in professional marketing and communication initiatives. So what did we do?

 -        bring (f)actual news from a trustworthy source and embed it in a broader industry-specific context

-        target a selected audience

-        meet editors’ needs and readers’ interest for information

-        select the right place: bring it where the related industry is present

-        select the right moment: bringing a proven story on compostability of wax paper packaging  rather than a ‘greenwashing’ story in moments of relentless pursuit for sustainable solutions and news

-        last but not least: secure a knowledgeable and passionate speaker and bring a short, crisp presentation

Following the press coverage, EuroWaxPack received many direct requests for additional information from the industry. A dream come true for any marketeer. Actual companies seeking better solutions and a scientific ‘benchmark’ for their recycling /sustainable practice and turning to the company that can give that information. The circle is complete.

The appeal of industry associations today reaches beyond ‘old school’ networking only.  A generation shift within a revolutionized information age brings different challenges and demands radical changes: retain members, capture the attention of press, the industry and related partners, demonstrate value and provide access to business critical information. 

There’s your relevance of integrated communication/PR … 

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VIGC seminar throws light on the big changes impacting the print world

Seminar with RIT Professor Emeritus Frank Romano - duomedia’s Lut Verschueren reports

No badges left at the reception desk in the European Auditorium in Turnhout for Frank Romano’s VIGC seminar on June 21. A packed auditorium and appreciative audience for this well-respected, knowledgeable and entertaining industry guru. He delivers a great review of drupa, and offers an international perspective and unique insight on the trends shaping the printing industry. Sharp, to the point, sweet … and amusingly controversial when stating that Landa’s technology announced at drupa was a great show, just not all that revolutionary. A very refreshing, well-packaged, truly informative session in a time when we all suffer from ‘infobesity.’

The winners and losers

Diminishing print volumes affect the entire printing industry. In the US alone, 50% of print has gone away since 1995. In the current climate of huge technology upheaval, everyone is competing fiercely with one another. And we’re seeing a great shift towards multi-channel marketing. All this has had an impact on print products – some of which will disappear, while new products will emerge and grow.

Another huge change is the demand for short runs (under 2,000 copies). And then there’s the inexorable rise of digital printing – it already enjoys a 15% market share, and this is set to rise as the technology is embraced everywhere.

In commercial printing, the two largest segments are advert/promo (24%) and packaging (15%). The book market is still performing well, but without the big runs. A decline in page count – due to the decrease in advertising – and circulation, means there’s a growing opportunity in digital for periodicals. 

When it comes to catalogues, which encourage recipients to call, click or visit, Romano says there will be a shift toward even greater personalization. And what about the billion-dollar question: will newspapers survive? “Until 2049,” shrugs Romano. As for directories, there is agreement that they will die.

Promotional printing was identified as a growth category (for digital, hence the short runs) and will remain a mainstay of the commercial printer’s output. Direct mail is expected to stick around, but its success depends on the efficiency of postal systems.

Technical documents like manuals and guides are predicted to be on their way out. There is potential, however, for printing legal and financial documents.

The decline in printing of traditional office documentation will continue, but the outlook is brighter in the stationery business, where there are growth opportunities.

Romano describes packaging as “the only area that has no electronic competition” and “the last 12 inches of the marketing program.” He asserts that this market offers huge potential for printers. He also claims that for those bringing viable solutions in film printing for flexible packaging and other applications, a great future lies ahead.

Printers that have embraced large format have discovered new markets. But it is industrial printing that offers the greatest potential. Think textiles, plastics, glass, printed electronics. What’s produced is unique, and people are willing to pay a premium for it.

Romano acknowledged that there is confusion in the market when it comes to print technology, saying there are ‘too many’ alternatives.

He acknowledged that offset people wouldn’t appreciate his view, but stated that in today’s multi-media landscape, digital inkjet is where the world is heading. Today’s printer is evolving into an information-making factory.

Romano expects that while the printing industry will stabilize in 2013, the market will continue to change. “VIGC helps you understand these changes,” he concluded.

Finally, despite the flood of announcements at drupa, Romano believes a lot of news has been held back, and anticipates more PR activity in the fall. If he’s right and there is to be a torrent of PR and marketing initiatives, you can expect duomedia to be at the forefront. Stay tuned!

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