"What use is an association if it doesn’t map out the path that will lead its members securely into the future?" asks Kurt Walker, the second-term president of FINAT, the Europe-based association for the label printing industry. Walker and FINAT’s managing director, Jules Lejeune, recently got together to discuss how the association plans to achieve this challenging agenda.
As an active participant in the labeling industry in label converting, Kurt Walker is a supporter of the need for a collective infrastructure that, he says, "can create a flow of shared information, promote the industry, identify and inform members of relevant technology developments, and at the same time actively encourage individual member companies’ creativity and success." Jules Lejeune, himself a second-generation participant in the association’s Secretariat, echoes this sentiment. He says, "Since the early days of FINAT in the 1950s and 1960s, when the whole concept of packaging and labeling was growing fast, along with the explosion in supermarketing," he remarks, "it has been FINAT’s mission to provide a sound and solid knowledge base on which the whole industry can depend."
"Unusually," Lejeune adds, "Our membership spans the entire supply chain, so our association’s remit is particularly broad. But our members tell us that FINAT’s ability to cover the self-adhesive label industry as a whole, from raw material suppliers to printers, is a real help in planning for the future. This is particularly true today, in our changing business world and in the face of advancing technology – not only in labelling, but in communications, sales platforms, and consumer demand."
Developing the strategy
With the FINAT Board and Secretariat, President Walker has been hard at work developing the strategy for the association to the year 2020, with associated tactics that will indeed leverage the industry’s combined interests. "Not only in Europe," he says, "But in concert with our counterpart associations outside Europe and with the regional label associations that are the heartbeat of our industry."
The label industry around the world has grown exponentially from the original entrepreneurial base of family-owned self-adhesive label print businesses who were clever enough to embrace the technology’s potential back in the 1970s and 1980s. Says Jules Lejeune: "Those companies are no longer little. Many are not even just local or even just regional, and there has been much merger and acquisition activity. Now it’s time for their founders – real-life baby boomers – to retire, and make way for the new generation’s vision and values."
"Not only that," adds Kurt Walker. "The world of labeling and packaging is of course-changing right at its base – in technology and scope. It’s sometimes difficult to differentiate today between a label and the pack it’s applied to. Current pre-press, printing and finishing technologies can accommodate many more options than the sturdy rotary letterpress machines that originally set self-adhesive labels on their feet. The context has changed completely, and, as prime supporters of this broad-ranging industry, we need to move the goalposts."
‘Leadership by knowledge’
Lejeune emphasizes that FINAT can expect to continue to offer its membership "leadership by knowledge." He says, "We have the benefit of a truly global base of converting technologies and print consumables, and an ever-strengthening customer base of international brand owners and other label user customers. FINAT continues to strengthen its position as the recognized umbrella for the European industry because it now sensibly reflects the broader portfolio of label types our converter members can offer," he says, adding, "And importantly, the association is actively “'ooking over the fence' at new and emerging opportunities such as printed electronics, direct-to-pack print, QR codes and advanced security/track-and-trace print, which are even now extending the definition of a label.
"It’s our job to make our members aware of the possibilities for expanding their business platform, both today, and for the future," Lejeune says. "We also track advances in materials, which are also redefining the nature of a label or pack. Then there are the game-changing opportunities that information technology and the digital revolution, in all its roles, has brought to labeling and packaging around the world. So, across the board, FINAT is strategically making the change from a passive to an active role in driving our industry’s future success."
Adds Walker: "We have begun with infrastructure – and designed a program for our members that includes an up-to-the-minute online reference source as well as a forward schedule of expert webinars and face-to-face workshops and seminars on key aspects of future developments and directions."
The need to coordinate the collection and dissemination of technical updates across the label industry’s vertical supply chain is one of FINAT’s key objectives, as well as to draw in to its knowledge hub the expertise of other organisations and partner industries which affect the activities of FINAT member companies. "This," says Lejeune, "can be difficult for individual companies to achieve within their full business agendas, so it is an ideal task for a pan-industry association like FINAT."
Attracting a broader member base
Knowledge and education are not the only fronts on which FINAT is developing major projects. "To represent the European label industry successfully," explains Walker, "FINAT’s membership really needs to be inclusive. Present membership is very much western-European based, but we are actively engaged in projects to further raise FINAT’s profile and create added interest in the value of membership – particularly in countries to the east of our region. This is a very dynamic part of the world, and the many new entrants to our industry there can really benefit from FINAT’s international profile, and – in a spirit of mutual learning -- bring new visions and values to the association. We’re targeting converters and both direct and indirect suppliers and developing a Road Show. Our partners in this are, in particular, our Young Managers Club – established not long ago to mentor the upcoming generation of managers in the industry, and now the source of huge energy and ideas – and of course our friends in the established national label associations, who, with their local knowledge and local language capabilities, are key players. This is just the start of an energetic program of events."
This focus on outreach is matched in the new FINAT strategy with an adaptation of its day-to-day organizational structure to reflect leading-edge business practice in a world that simply will not stand still, as Walker explains. "FINAT is not just a passive 'in-box' for information on technology developments, geographic change, and legislative and political issues. Its remit today is to actively help to drive that change in our industry, both within our supply chain and through creating an interface with our end users. This is an exciting mission," he says.
The important volunteer force
As well as strengthening partnerships with the regional European label associations, FINAT will also collaborate actively with the global label associations, with whom the association already has strong links, and reposition its approach to its highly-important volunteer force – the key to driving forward this ambitious strategy. "We depend enormously on our volunteers," says Lejeune, "and we want to encourage even more of them to come forward – but in a way that does not represent an obstacle in the execution of their activities in the companies for whom they work. We believe we can better attract participation in limited-life projects rather than in long-term infrastructure management – and I am sure this approach, while it’s a major “redesign," will certainly stimulate members’ commitment. Of course, the FINAT Secretariat will continue to provide a solid infrastructure platform, as well as a flexible and responsive pathway to expert professional support wherever it’s needed."
In-depth industry trends
2014-15 strategic projects already underway or in the practical planning stage include the launch of a new, wide-ranging half-yearly professionally-conducted Industry Trends Report, exclusively for FINAT members. On-site industry trends seminars and roundtables will brief (and debrief) members around the region, and will be complemented by regular webinars so that members can keep their fingers on the industry’s pulse without leaving their workstations.
FINAT Congress – a new profile
Perhaps the jewel in the crown of FINAT’s events program is the annual FINAT Congress – and, says Walker, "here, too, we are redefining the agenda to better reflect members’ needs. Rather than deliver a straightforward industry 'get together', Congress is now being repositioned as a top-level industry forum. We will roll out the new format in 2015, when the event comes to Amsterdam. As well as featuring top international speakers on management interests and challenges, it will be much more highly business oriented, and will provide much more opportunity for delegates to interact, network and participate in breakout discussions."
Sustainability – a true action agenda
No consideration of future vision and values would be complete without adding sustainability to the agenda. This is a field where FINAT’s responsible stance has already resulted in a respected presence in EU debates on packaging legislation. The association’s continuing strategic actions begin, in partnership with the regional label associations, with the creation of a central knowledge base comprising opportunities, issues, legislation, and extant infrastructure in a global context. "Sustainability is another arena of critical member interest where our association can helpfully collect and share knowledge on a regular basis with members," says Lejeune. "But our key global focus moves forward from that base. From our strong starting position, we are taking positive action in the environmental arena to encourage the international harmonisation of sustainability standards relevant to the label industry."