Pellant: a new premier for print?
Containing as it does a complex fabric of processes and purposes, the printing industry reflects that with a disconnected network of member associations. Each represents a different tranche of interests, many with overlaps which generate some degree of confusion, but one organisation stands out with a particular remit: to represent the needs, concerns and development of manufacturers and suppliers.
This body, Picon, may operate outside print’s visible sphere of influence yet its work addresses the micro and macro, as well as the practical and regulatory issues that are faced by those in the print, paper and converting industries. It’s surprising that such an important and noble mission is little known outside the commercial print space, especially with major names Konica Minolta, Heidelberg, Canon and Kodak on its members list, and with task forces covering a variety of areas, including digital output. But it’s not only big players that sit around this particular table; smaller companies also benefit from Picon’s support with very practical issues, such as credit control and legal advice.
Expansion and perhaps recognition are among the first tasks for Bettine Pellant, incoming chief executive, to face. With a background spanning retail, pre-press consumables, exhibitions and administration, her CV indicates that she has the experience and the mettle so to do – but it is likely to be her consultative attitude that will help her achieve that quest, as it has built the near-universal respect she commands from the movers and shakers of the British print scene.
In Pellant’s words, Picon “assists our members in the daily running of their businesses and take away the headache. In some cases that’s regulation and information overload so, for example, we drill down and give members the information they need on a particular topic.” She acknowledges that her new charge is little known outside the core narrow-format area but, to match its members’ diversification, broadening its scope is a priority.
“We are definitely changing. A lot of our members are moving into new areas; because we’ve always been representative of the industry, I will be engaging with other manufacturers in, for example, wide-format and industrial print.”
Pellant first became involved with Picon in 2008, when she was brought in by then-chief executive Tim Webb to take the organisation to that year’s drupa outing. But her own experience with print begins some time before that. Having worked in Harrods she began a family – she declares, proudly but not obsequiously, that she is a mother and a grandmother, as well as a stationer and an allotment holder – before working in administration and coming in to the sector via colour separation drums. Her history also includes running her own equipment supplies business as well as a long stint at Manroland, pitching her as a candidate with heritage across the supply chain and an intrinsic understanding of its concerns.
“The association has changed since I became a part of it in 2008,” Pellant acknowledges. “Part of that was to let go of our offices in Surrey to become a virtual association, allowing that money to be put back into the organisation for the members’ benefit. When I joined it was the beginning of the recession, and we saw an increase in members using the resources we supply, such as business services around VAT and HR, especially for the SMEs in our membership.”
It was through this period that Pellant became an industry name, with a realistic but buoyant attitude towards the challenges and opportunities faced by the sector in general and the printers within it. “There are a number of challenges facing the wider industry,” she observes. “Economic instability is one, the election result is another, with conversations about the Eurozone; all of these help to undermine the plans that people might have. And I think there is still work to be done on the value of print; we all know how fantastic it is, but there is a lack of self-promotion.
“We need a wider perspective on how print can be used, and that requires education – in part so that printers can understand the capability of the equipment that they use, what other applications exist, and possibly take a risk and just go for it.”
That broadening of the field of vision was behind Picon’s being an inaugural member of the GPMA, the Graphics, Print and Media Alliance, founded by former Picon chair Peter Morris. “He could see the need for one voice,” she recalls, but one fundamental question challenges its existence: is there a need for quite so many associations to begin with? “I don’t think so. Each association offers different things to their niche. I always think that, as these are all subscription-led organisations, if there wasn’t a requirement for them they wouldn’t be here – so, yes, we do need that diversity.”
The GPMA has been conspicuously quiet since its official inception at Ipex 2014 but, then, one can afford it the excuse of needing to reconcile a number of perspectives and influences. “You’ll probably start to see something from the GPMA this year,” she indicates. “We’re looking at a number of initiatives. Around the table we’ve got representatives who are vendors or who represent end users, and we will be going to market with various [common projects].”
In the end, both GPMA and Picon are aligned with the fundamental desire of the industry to extend print’s reach and to coordinate that momentum to its mutual benefit. Print has needed this for some time, and many have asked the question of who is best placed to engineer it. Pellant’s background in coordination, retail and the nuts and bolts of the equipment side of the industry combines with an holistic world view and a new position that could post her to exactly that position. Moreover, it is her approachable, altruistic personality that makes her its prime candidate, setting her apart from a dogmatic, defensive rhetoric that has tended to dominate industry discourse during the recession years.
“In the majority of the jobs that I’ve had there’s the fact of being useful, helpful. Picon is there to assist its members, and that’s one of the motivations I have. At the end of the day I like to think that I had helped somebody, or pointed them in the right direction if I didn’t know the answer.” With that in mind, what wisdom does she have to help print at this apical point?
“If I have one piece of advice for the industry it’s perseverance. Things haven’t been good but they are getting better, so I think it’s a case for those companies that are here is to hang on in there: it is a great industry and the opportunities are out there."
Print needs a voice that develops solutions to its major challenges and propels its position within government, the European Union and the wider world. In order to do so effectively it must unite its complex array of interests; one body must encapsulate these efforts and one person must carry them forward. The industry now needs to elect that spokesperson; it should give Pellant the serious consideration she deserves to edify print, both internally and externally.