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The new plan and the way into future

Julia Bernert

Published on 03.06.2020

About the British fighting spirit in the crisis

A few months ago, the world was normal. Things changed abruptly because of the COVID-19 virus. Carey Trevill, Interim CEO of the British Promotional Merchandise Association (BPMA) explains how the crisis has affected the British promotional products market.

The impact of Covid-19 has been felt far earlier in the UK with delayed response times or products simply not available, meaning parts of the supply chain seized. When in February the situation started to taper, the question ‘what if this happens to us?’ was asked also in UK. It made people take stock as travel started to be curtailed and the reality hit home. ‘It was here and suddenly the evaluation of what was possible was taken out of many businesses hands’, Carey Trevill remembers. Deliveries could not be made, payments for goods would not be received, overall, business decline here went from ’normal’ to under 30%.’

‘March was an incredibly hard month for all as we waited anxiously for the plans the Government would put in place – they had stepped in to rescue hospitality businesses very quickly but the rest of us felt left behind’, Trevill says. In order to make the dramatic situation of the industry clear to the government and the creative industries, the BPMA carried out lobby work. Above all, cash flow had to be quickly restored within the supply chain. To this end, the committees of the creative industries worked closely together. Whereas in the beginning, loans and grants were made available primarily to provide short-term relief, the current focus is on redefining payment conditions for the future.

Months later, the British are now noticing a gradual increase in enquiries, as companies are slowly recovering. Many BPMA members have decided to enter the PPE (personal protective equipment) market. A highly complex and heavily regulated area, this move has saved many businesses and jobs in the short term however those who are new to this sector are discovering this lucrative market can have many pitfalls. ‘PPE will be part of all our lives for some time to come and the BPMA is working closely with its members to provide as much timely support and information as possible,’ Trevill says.

Complications caused by Brexit

Brexit also represented a particular challenge for British promotional products manufacturers and retailers, describes Trevill. ‘Many end users rattled by the thought of Brexit (and doesn’t Brexit suddenly seem so simple…) had moved supply chains to Europe in anticipation in 2019 putting some revenue streams under strain. The exceptionally strong basis for manufacture, production and supply in the UK will find its moment as a direct result of the crisis.’ It was clear that raw materials, pricing and availability for specific channels would be a challenge, and this was an area, that was shifting daily. ‘For those members with branches in Europe, markets are opening at different rates and this is impacting supply. This is giving us an insight as an industry on potential behaviours as the UK is some weeks behind other markets in reopening for business.’ It has been clear from many member conversations that the time to take stock and evaluate their business has been invaluable despite the circumstances. ‘We expect to see changes in the way many long standing businesses operate as a result.’

Support during the crisis

Since March and taking over just prior as interim CEO for the BPMA, Trevill’s and her team worked intensely to help BPMA members navigate the crisis. With weekly live broadcasts, each new government measure and the benefits for each organisation were examined. ‘We have also provided a picture of the wider end-user context and the impact we believe this will have on members.’ For example, it was examined how the lockdown behaviours expected to perpetuate beyond this period, could be supported by the industry. Data and experts were involved to help members identify potential paths that were not available previously. ‘We will now be running our popular sessions throughout the summer as a recovery and resilience series to ensure every business has the information it needs to survive and thrive.’ The BPMA is also part of the Advertising Association, with a seat on the renowned AA Council to bring an up to date view from the wider world, in turn of helping their members to make decisions that are more informed.

What can each one do?

Trevill believes that agile businesses during this period are inspiring and innovative. ‘We are encouraging every member to examine their normal revenue streams, look to see how they can be adapted by situation, message, and context to develop new revenue streams.’

The pioneers had already begun to show where the physical and emotional connection with their products could be established. ‘Seeing the work and launches over the last few weeks has shown the rest of the UK that we’re open and serious about the business of recovery.’

For many whose staff are furloughed, regular keep in touch sessions, training and encouraging the mastery and purpose of new skills has brought forth a torrent of talent. ‘There is no doubt there will be losses across the industry’, Trevill says. However, she also sees that this close industry has worked together to ensure as many as possible can come out of the other side.

When asked what words she would like to share with the industry, she answers: ‘It’s trite to say we’re in this together. But for once, as a global economy, as friends and family we genuinely are. It’s already been tough and we know we have more to come.’ For many market leaders worldwide, the virus has a balancing effect, she continues. The reserves of strength to keep facing forward and moving are challenging even the most optimistic. ‘Yet, we still get up and find ways daily to move forward and find the tipping point for recovery we know will be coming.’

The fighting spirit of the members and the UK approach, which is visible across all sectors, is to look ahead for many post reassessment of their business and personal goals. ‘It is true we don’t yet fully know what lies ahead and the steps forward are more cautious than at any other time… yet we continue, onwards and with conviction that this will be different, better, changed. We will be facing a plan that perhaps we didn’t write ourselves and how great this new plan is, will be in our hands. The history books will write about the decisions we take as business leaders and at no other time is the clarity of vision needed worldwide.’ She says that a new sense of collaboration and friendship has been born from this time and looks forward to working with her team to help the industry find the new plan and way ahead.

Image: BPMA