Changing the perception of print is key to promoting direct mail as a hero product of the future, a packed national conference of mailing house industry experts heard.
More than 100 members of the Strategic Mailing Partnership (SMP) filled a room at the Phoenix Centre, London, for the partnership’s third – and most successful yet – annual summit on the theme of ‘What’s Going On Out There?’
The keynote speaker was Stephen Agar, managing director of Royal Mail Letters, who outlined the challenges currently facing Royal Mail.
Representing downstream access carriers, James Wilkins, managing director of Secured Mail, agreed that the current marketplace was challenging but said working closely as an industry would help promote the best value mail.
He was followed by Soterios Soteri, commercial and economics finance director for Royal Mail, who wowed the conference with a fascinating macro-economic study, illustrating how GDP growth was closely aligned to the performance of mail.
Jonathan Tame, managing director of Two Sides, reiterated that paper was a highly sustainable form of communication but highlighted a possible threat to paper supplies after 2021 as demand continued to outstrip production even in a declining market. Many producers had diversified into other areas such as packaging, leading to less paper being manufactured.
The summit programme also featured a series of break out sessions where members gathered in smaller groups to discuss three current issues – how GDPR had affected business, the challenges of running a modern mailing house and incentives offered by Royal Mail.
Members recognised the role that JICMail would play in the future if younger marketeers were to consider print as well as digital communication channels.
Many felt that the requirements of GDPR had simply become part and parcel of standard compliance procedures. In its wake, partially addressed mail had emerged as a useful opportunity which some had tried with success.
The fear factor had dissipated and those buying data before May 2018 had now returned to purchasing it, with many refreshingly buoyant about business.
A further discussion tackled the challenges facing modern mailing houses, including attracting the right calibre of staff. Groups agreed that apprenticeships could be a key source for recruitment and companies needed to be flexible and offer incentives to retain them – for instance, allowing driving lessons to be taken during working hours to give apprentices the chance to take advantage of cheaper, off peak lesson rates.
Closing the summit, SMP chair Judith Donovan CBE said, ‘There are some real opportunities for our members but the key is working collaboratively with Royal Mail and downstream access operators to deliver what customers want.
‘While it is certainly not all doom and gloom, it is important to show the reality of the market we are working in. A year ago, we thought GDPR would ruin our industry but while it was tedious, it is now a busted flush and has had little long term effect.
‘The challenges of today are different and centre on what we can do to change perception of the direct mail industry. Big companies and organisations do get lazy and take the easy option of digitising everything, which is why campaigns such as Two Sides’ Love Print are vital.
‘Ours is a challenging and changing industry. Direct mail is creative and tactile – a personal advert that goes straight into someone’s home – so let’s do more to make it a hero product. In 10 years time it could be the premium product on the market. It has been wonderful to see everyone here so engaged and focused on going forward.’