Thomas A.M. Hendriksen is the new President of the EPPA (European Promotional Products Association). The Dutchman succeeds his fellow countryman Hans Poulis and will be steering the destiny of the European umbrella association for the next two years. Indeed the new EPPA Board is faced with big challenges.
Mr. Hendriksen, what was your motivation, as Hans Poulis’ successor, to run for the post of EPPA President?
Thomas Hendriksen: In addition to my professional occupation, I have been engaged in association activities for years as a board member and also as Chairman. I have many years of experience organising and running association work and politics. When it came down to finding a successor for Hans Poulis, I simply knew that I wanted to take over the role. It has been my opinion for a long time that the industry in Europe has to be organised differently and more efficiently. Hans Poulis was responsible for many good initiatives – among others the CSR campaign –, but the EPPA has no solid financial foundation. I would like to achieve what Hans Poulis had set as his goals. At the same time, with the last few years in mind, I don’t want to raise the expectations too high, but instead set realistic goals, because I am taking up office at a rather difficult point in time.
Will the old EPPA office in The Hague carry on operating?
Thomas Hendriksen: No, the offices in The Hague will be closed due to reasons of costs and will be relocated to my private residence in Nieuw-Vennep, close to Amsterdam. I have no employees at the moment either. Of course, there is plenty of work that would justify employing somebody, but we want to keep the costs as low as possible.
The fact that EPPA pursues big goals as the European umbrella association without disposing of the corresponding means is an ongoing theme.
Thomas Hendriksen: At present, it is in fact a central theme. The 3,000 Euros, which every member association contributes every year is simply not enough. In order to be able to work, the EPPA would have to have ten times the amount at its disposal. So, we have to contemplate how we can raise money – this can only be achieved via an alternative association structure. My first, top priority task is to find a solution to this problem.
One possibility would be to open the EPPA up to more than one national association per country. For instance, The BPMA (British Promotional Merchandise Association), one of the biggest and most active national associations by far, has been wanting to become a member for years. However, due to the current articles of association this is not permissible, because Great Britain is already represented within EPPA by Promota.
Thomas Hendriksen: That is correct and up until now individual members have always rejected changing the articles to this effect. And it is their good right to do so. Nevertheless, one thing is clear in my eyes: If the current articles, which only allow one association to join per country and no other further member, are maintained, EPPA will not survive.
Discussions have also been held for years on opening the EPPA up to individual companies that do not belong to a national association.
Thomas Hendriksen: Several big suppliers and distributors already take on the role of sponsors. Hans Poulis recently put a proposal forward to the country members to accept individual companies as members with far-reaching rights – in a similar way to how the American association, the PPAI (Promotional Products Association International) works. This proposal was rejected. However, I want to take all possibilities into account and am currently holding intense discussions with all involved parties. I will develop and present proposals based on these discussions.
Is one considering including the PSI (Promotional Product Service Institute) as an EPPA member?
Thomas Hendriksen: The PSI should at least be involved more in the future. The PSI is an important element of the industry and an influential player and should play a role as a partner within the EPPA – in which form still has to be discussed.
When can we expect the outcome?
Thomas Hendriksen: The final decision as to whether and how the structure of the association will change, will most probably be taken at the General Meeting of the members in September. I would once again like to emphasise: An alternative structure mustn’t effect the member associations in terms of their sovereignty and influence, and without the “goahead” of the members there will be no decision.
But also beyond the financial side of things, it would of course be desirable for the EPPA to have more members. The current 11 national associations, which are organised under the umbrella of the EPPA, don’t cover the pan-European industry sufficiently.
Thomas Hendriksen: This is correct. After all the EU does have 28 member states. One shouldn’t forget that many of them don’t have an association, but nevertheless a lot of countries have a pulsating promotional products market and big, active associations that are not EPPA members. Furthermore, the entire Eastern European zone is underrepresented within EPPA.
In the meantime, the EPPA offers thoroughly good reasons to become a member. The latest among them is the Code of Conduct for the European promotional products industry. How are things going to develop with the CSR campaign?
Thomas Hendriksen: In the scope of the pilot project conducted in 2013, on the whole the certification process proved to be successful and as is commonly known the first companies have already been certified. There were delays with the final pricing. The price will be finalised within the next few weeks.
The next step is to establish the CSR programme across the board. Here, the assistance of the national associations is called for, because the EPPA does not have the financial means to launch a large-scale advertising campaign.
Is there promising feedback from the European industry in this connection? After all, it is up to the individual companies whether they choose to undergo the certification process and the related cost and efforts.
Thomas Hendriksen: A high amount of interest is being shown particularly from Germany, Great Britain, France, the Benelux countries and Scandinavia. I think one can cautiously predict that we will have awarded at least 400 bronze and in total 100 silver and gold certifications by the end of this year.
At the beginning of 2013, your predecessor predicted that the campaign would be “a well-known standard in five years’ time”.
Thomas Hendriksen: Self-regulation in the sense of a Code of Conduct is indispensable for our industry. The officials in Brussels won’t talk to us until we have achieved such a standard. And if we don’t succeed in achieving this standard by 2020 at the latest, the EPPA will have failed.
On the theme of Brussels: What plans do you have in terms of PR and lobby work for the industry?
Thomas Hendriksen: I will invest a lot of time and talk to the politicians in Brussels to find out what has to be done to be directly involved in the legislation processes. But lobby work also costs a great amount of money. We certainly can’t afford to hire expensive lobby agencies. A feasible option would be to work together with big industry players more intensively, who frequently have good connections to Brussels.
Are you planning further initiatives?
Thomas Hendriksen: My idea is to carry out international discussions that take place once or twice a year: A think tank comprising of around 15 creative, professional industry players from six or seven countries should meet up in a great location to discuss current international themes and solutions. The aim is to strengthen the approach of the European industry and learn from each other.
In the light of the current economic and political conflicts can one even talk about a pan-European promotional products industry?
Thomas Hendriksen: I am convinced that we can. We live in the EU, so we ought to accept this and act accordingly. An international exchange is indispensable. We have to talk to each other much more. Taking the international alliances such as IGC, Ippag or Eurimage as an example – there are good reasons why they exist, and they work.
So there is also still a good reason for the existence of the EPPA?
Thomas Hendriksen: I am convinced we can’t do without a European umbrella association.
Where will the EPPA be in five years’ time?
Thomas Hendriksen: The EPPA will still exist in five years. I am sure it will take on a different form, but it will be more dynamic than today.