‘I liked dealing with printers, they’re fun’

By Darryl Danielli, Monday 25 September 2017

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With a 30-plus-year history in the paper merchanting game, Martyn Eustace, managing director of print and paper advocacy organisation Two Sides UK, is well versed on the effectiveness and sustainability of print and paper.

eustace

Eustace: "My job is to make sure I leave Two Sides in good shape for the next 10 years"

Which is just as well. Because for the past nine years he’s been tasked with the mission of defending the industry’s honour and spreading the good word to consumers, brand owners and marketers that print’s sustainability story is as strong as its impact.

And with the organisation’s tally of greenwash victories mounting and consumer perception starting to change, he’s confident that with the print industry’s ongoing support Two Sides will continue to fight the good fight well beyond his tenure.

Darryl Danielli So how long have you been in print?

Martyn Eustace Well, if you mean paper and print, then I started straight out of university.

Into the paper industry? 

That’s right. I started at a paper mill and then became a salesman for Howard Smith Papers in the Midlands.

Which paper mill?

Domtar – It’s still around. Canadian company. At that time it owned a paper mill in Sunderland making coloured papers and printing and writing grades basically. It also owned Howard Smith Paper, hence I moved there as a salesman. So that was when my relationship with print really started, because printers were my customers in the early to mid 70s.

I guess in those days there were still lots of paper companies in the UK?

Oh, there were dozens and I think my take out from that time – in fact one of my earliest professional memories – was when I was working at the mill and someone called and said, ‘I want two tonnes of this sort of green colour, but it’s slightly different, can you help me?’ and we would just go and make it for them. So, it was a very complicated batch production system – but the customer got exactly what they wanted. But when I went to work as an agent for a German mill, they did things very differently. They would make 100 tonnes of green and when the customers asked for a specific shade we would just say ‘Well, we have this green and it’s half the price you would pay in the UK, but you have to have our green’. Funnily enough, everyone said: ‘Yes, that’s fine’.

The Henry Ford business model, then?

Precisely. I think we were late to that in the UK. There wasn’t the investment in the paper industry. Whether that was the industry’s fault, or political, or investor climate, I don’t know. But we were a collection of small paper mills in the UK, specialists who really didn’t stand a chance against the bigger guys in Europe that saw things from a far clearer perspective. They recognised that it wasn’t feasible to be doing very, very small quantities and trying to compete in the commercial market, unless you’re in the luxury end or something like that.

So the writing was on the wall even back then for UK papermakers?

I didn’t know it then, but looking back it probably was. Perhaps, subconsciously, that’s why I decided to focus on sales. Even selling toilet paper at one stage, which was quite fun. But I came back to merchanting.

Because there were more opportunities in merchanting?

I’ve always enjoyed that sort of rather freewheeling world; you know, you can buy from where you want, you can sell to who you want. I liked dealing with printers too, they were fun. The whole thing was fun. I’m sure it still is to a degree, but back then it was a particularly good time in the industry. Doing things like introducing the first coated papers into the UK. They didn’t really exist here before the end of the 70s. It seems we’ve done a bit of a full circle here, now, with the fashion for uncoated. But, coated paper was a bit of a mystery back then.

So it was a rapid period of change?

We didn’t really realise how fast things were changing. It was a fantastic period of change and development. And of course, the growth was stupendous. I mean you’d sit down with the sales team and ask them ‘What are we going to do next year?’ and they say ‘Ah, I’m gonna sell 10% more’ and you’d go ‘Come on, you wimps, you can do better than that’. It was a fantastic time. It was high growth. It was sort of easy. The market was just growing really fast for printers and for paper businesses, it was, well, just really easy. 

Is that how you ended up running Howard Smith, because it was easy?

[Laughs] Probably, yes. When I went back to work for Howard Smith, the growth was so strong that we built the most amazing centralised, automated warehouse. The first of its kind in the UK and the biggest in Europe – in Northampton, of course.

When was that?

That was 1989. I think that was £6m, which was a lot of money at that stage and then we spent £3m two years later on an extension.

Were you running the business around that time? 

Yes. I mean you really couldn’t go wrong then. It was just growth all the time. Printers were growing exponentially, and paper companies were too. Prices were even going up – it was the heyday really of the printing and paper industries in the UK. And there was an excitement. Colour was coming everywhere. In everything, in every way it was a time of experimentation and it was a great fun. Not least, I think, because Howard Smith was the fastest growing paper merchant at that stage.

But you left Howard Smith in the early noughties? 

Yes, 2003. It has to be said that Howard Smith was doing really well and our parent company at that stage was a Dutch company, Buhrmann. It also owned Corporate Express, the office products company and they also distributed Heidelberg machines. It was a very diverse company. And it went through a period of massive expansion. Particularly in the office products sector.

What happened?

Well, I guess, it over stretched and had to raise some money. So, Howard Smith and Robert Horne and PaperCo or Bunzl, which were all part of the group by then, were sold to Paperlinx. And that was when the disaster happened. That was in the early noughties, maybe 2002, something like that. So the Australians came over and, I have to say, I wasn’t impressed at all. And so, myself and a bunch of people from Howard Smith decided to leave and we were asked to sort out Premier Paper which was in a bit of a mess at the time.

Was that an independent group at the time?

Premier was owned by Metsä Group, well Map Merchants. For various reasons, it was struggling. But even so I wanted to get out of Paperlinx, because there were lots of things the Australians were doing that made me think it was just going to end in heartache, which turned out to be reasonably accurate. 

It just took another decade or so...

Precisely, but that’s a whole other story.

Probably an interview in itself, isn’t it? 

Quite possibly. So, I went to Premier and while it was losing a lot of money then, we managed to turn it around in two years and it was making decent profits. Unfortunately though, the European merchanting operations were sold to Sequana, which meant that in the UK it would have owned Antalis and Premier Paper – and to get the deal approved they had to sell one.

You mean approved by the competition authority? 

They decided they wanted to keep a hold of Antalis. So we, the management team, offered around £17m to buy it – but we were outbid.

So you were you part of an MBO team then?

I sort of lead that, really. Which was a bit of a black spot on my CV, because we were not successful [laughs]. We raised a lot of money but they had a better offer elsewhere [£19m], which they took. It was Graham Griffiths that bought it. He owned Beswicks and rolled Beswicks into Premier, and he’s made a very good job of it. It’s a very successful business. But anyway, I was unsuccessful, so I thought about what to do next – I could have retired, but I felt a bit young for that.

When was all this?

2008.

So you decided not to take early retirement then? 

No. Well, we’re all worried these days aren’t we? How will we live and how long will the money last? And also you’ve got to have something to do, haven’t you?

How old were you around that sort of time then? 

I must have been 56.

So quite young to retire 

A youngster. And you know, I had learned a lot in my career – I’d been CEO of two successful companies – so I was thinking ‘Okay, so what do I do now?’. But at that stage nobody was looking for people to run paper merchants: they were trying to consolidate and downsize if anything. So, I did a bit of work with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

Consultancy type work? 

I was called in to look at a couple of print companies that were struggling. And I was part of the PwC turnaround team, but I don’t think I was very much help because usually companies who are asking for professionally help at that stage, normally, it’s a bit late. But anyway, I did a bit of time there; and I was doing a few other small consultancy type things. But in my last year at Premier I was still part of the National Association Paper Merchants (NAPM) policy group. And we had decided that there were so many bad stories about print and paper that we wanted to do something positive.

And that’s how Two Sides was born?

That’s basically how it started. So, we had a bit of money and we thought about running an advertising campaign to support the industry by promoting the sustainability and effectiveness of paper primarily. I was still involved with NAPM, but I was no longer a paper merchant. In fact, I think it was at the last NAPM meeting I was set to attend. We discussed the campaign and someone asked what we could do with it to take it further. ‘Well’, I said ‘to do it properly we’re going to need someone to drive it forward, because you can’t run it by committee as nothing will happen quick enough’. And somebody said, ‘How would you like to do it for three days a week if we paid you to do it?’. So I agreed to do it for a year and see where we were after that. That was nine years ago.

Was it called Two Sides then?

I can’t really remember, there were a few names floating around in the beginning. We settled on Two Sides, because the NGOs were saying the paper industry was a forest killer, and we wanted to show that we were forest protectors and so there were ‘two sides’ of the story. And PwC was very helpful and really helped us get, what effectively was a new association, off the ground. They helped write a charter and said that if we were going to make an impact; then we had to make sure that we weren’t just an apologist for the industry. They said that if we wanted to have credibility then we shouldn’t claim the industry had always been perfect, but we should show how we had confronted those issues and talk about how we had and were changing, and then talk about the industry’s positives with confidence. So that’s how it started.

Was this officially launched around 2008 then?

2008 was the start. But back then it was primarily supported by just the paper companies, because that was what I knew. But printers had always been my customers and we wanted to get the printers involved too, and then it was the publishers and the ink people – because if the campaign was successful then we would all benefit. And that was quite unique. Before that, I don’t think those groups had ever really met in a commercial forum to promote print as this collection of paper, print, publishing, ink, design and post. We’d never really thought of ourselves as one single industry, before that we were more five or six separate industries that were all trying to make a bit of money out of each other.

And it outlived the NAPM in the end? 

Yes, because Two Sides had the ability to evolve. And we weren’t solely reliant on one sector within the industry, so if one part was having a tough time – the others could step up and do more. Because we involved the whole sector you can sort of draw out the strengths from various parts. So, I mean, at the moment, we struggle to get printers involved, but that’s because we know that they’re going through a really hard time – but we still manage to get support from the paper sector, publishers and the ink companies. And this year we’re looking to get the packaging industry more involved. Because packaging is not just about product protection, it’s also an important marketing tool. Our common denominator is fibre based materials, whatever they’re used for, and showing that they’re sustainable in a world that is increasing concerned about the environment.

You mentioned some of the places you operate in, are there any others?

We’re throughout Europe. There are some hotspots like the UK, there some dull spots where we need to be stronger, particularly Germany, but France is very good for us and the Scandinavian countries. The US organisation is very successful. South Africa, Australia, Brazil, Colombia too and if I had many more years in front of me, I’d probably be looking to try and establish ourselves more in Asia and India – that’s sort of a work in progress if you like.

So what’s Two Sides relationship with Print Power? Are they one and the same?

No. We’re going into another complication. Print Power was set up by the European paper industry, they liked Two Sides and supported it, but decided they wanted to do something that was more focussed on the effectiveness of paper and print – not just the sustainability. So they set up Print Sells and then rebranded it Print Power. Its audience isn’t consumers or printers, it’s targets are agencies, the marketers – the people that allocate budgets for campaigns – because if we don’t persuade them to use print, then the game’s up. I was asked to take the Print Power project on around four years ago, so we moved that into the same office as Two Sides and ran them together. They were very complementary, but I relinquished responsibility for Print Power this year. Because I’m 65 and there’s more I want to do with Two Sides before I leave, and that has to be my focus. So from the 1 July, Ulbe Jelluma took over the running of Print Power, but it’s still continuing.

You’ll still be using the same resources and teams and that sort of thing.

Anything is possible. The European paper industry had been putting in close to €1m a year into Print Power and Two Sides, and, quite understandably, they wanted to know if they were getting a good bang for their buck. So, what we did was commission GfK to carry out some research. What they found was that with Two Sides there were clear metrics in terms of people’s changing attitudes to print media and paper, Two Sides was working and it was very measurable and we could show it was changing opinions. But with Print Power it was a bit more difficult – because if your metric was ‘Is the market for print growing as a result of Print Power?’ then the answer would have to be ‘no’, but if the question was ‘Without Print Power would the market be declining quicker?’, then the answer might be ‘yes’ – it’s rather difficult to measure. But it was a piece of investigative research and out of it have come some ideas of how to focus Print Power in the future, which might be slightly different from how it’s been done in the past.

And that’s all to be announced soon?

Ulbe is working on it at the moment in the terms of the strategy going forward. What I can say is that it’ll continue to focus on media decision-makers, trying to influence them by giving them evidence that print is an effective way to communicate.

But now, you’re focus is 100% Two Sides then? 

Absolutely. Our development into packaging, growing our greenwash campaign, which has been tremendously successful. Globally we have challenged more than 600 companies on their greenwashing, big companies: Bank of America, Ryanair, HSBC, all the major banks, telecoms and utilities companies who have been saying ‘switch to digital – it’s better for the environment, don’t use print anymore’.

So what have been the milestone victories? 

Well, we have in the UK, a success rate of over 82% in changing those messages, worldwide I think it’s running at about 60%. We’ve got more to do, we’ve got companies popping up every day that we’re adding to our ‘hit list’. So it’s hard to pick a single milestone.

What about Greenpeace, didn’t they create that PDF that wouldn’t print or something?

That was a German WWF initiative. WWF globally actually disowned it after we tackled them – we actually work quite closely with WWF, they’re a very sensible, science-based organisation, but it was their German office having a mad moment.

Is challenging those greenwash claims from big organisations your main reason for being?

That’s just one part, we have to do everything. We are enormously grateful for the help of the newspaper and magazine industries. I mean, in the UK alone, we receive between £2m and £3m of free advertising space every year. But we also do more active engagement and campaigning too, and write a lot of letters, share a lot of great stories; you have to have a committed people driving that forward and we’re very lucky to have those people in Two Sides. They’re working on a set of short videos at the moment, which is almost an evolution of the first thing we did: our Myths and Facts booklet, which is updated annually and has been translated into more than 40 languages.

What’s been your proudest achievement though?

Getting the publishing, printing, paper, postal and ink companies all together to act in the industry’s best interests. That’s been the real strength of Two Sides.

One of the criticisms aimed at Two Sides sometimes is that it’s preaching to the converted, is that fair?

That is some people’s perception, and while I do understand it, it’s wrong. A lot of what the industry sees is just to keep them informed of what we’re doing, our campaigns, but they need to realise that often they’re not directed at them – they’re aimed at consumers, we just want to show the industry what we’re doing. They might see an advert in PrintWeek, but that same advert will also be carried by national newspapers and consumer magazines. For example we had a national newspaper competition last year and we had 30,000 entries from people. Which meant that 30,000 people read the ad, watched the Two Sides video and then almost 6,000 people actually completed the competition entry form to win a trip to see sustainable forests in Europe. And these are consumers. I don’t know if they’re important consumers. I don’t know what that means in the terms of their attitudes, but it’s got to be a good thing to be getting to these consumers in a way that we couldn’t before. And increasing consumer awareness of the sustainability of print and paper has to be a good thing surely?

But what are the key challenges facing Two Sides as an organisation?

Membership. We are going through a membership drive at the moment. People are under pressure. So, the first thing they do is look at all their expenses and unfortunately Two Sides membership doesn’t always make the cut. We need people to look at the bigger picture and realise that what we do is important for our industry, for their business, but we need their help to continue. The Paper industry is still very supportive, but we need to get back to where the whole industry is behind us.

How many printers are members of Two Sides UK then?

Around 80. 

Not just the big organisations? 

They tend to be the bigger ones, but we desperately need more of all sizes. We’re for everyone, large or small. Our lowest subscription is £150 a year so it’s open to all printers. The BPIF is very supportive, so is the BAPC and IPIA. They send our letters on our behalf to encourage membership. It’s a challenge though, because I could easily spend 95% of my time trying to raise money, but then I wouldn’t be doing my job, but without the money Two Sides wouldn’t exist.

What about you, though? You mentioned you’re 65 now...

I shall fade out at some point [laughs], gradually handing over during next year. But right now my job is to make sure I leave Two Sides in good shape for the next 10 years.

What do you hope to achieve in the next year then?

Establish a stable funding model. More out of hope then expectation to be honest. Growing the global network and just make we continue to fight the good fight of promoting the positives of printed media.

Sounds like a pretty busy final year then?

[Laughs] just a bit. 

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