Ten years ago, Gordon Glenister took over the management of the BPMA (British Promotional Merchandise Association) as Director General. Today, the association is one of the most active organisations within the European promotional products industry. Glenister spoke to eppi magazine about the British industry in these times of change, the challenge of the association work and the Anglo- European relations after the Brexit.
You have been heading the BPMA now for ten years. How has the market changed over that period?
Gordon Glenister: Quite a lot. The big crash of 2008 really hit the industry like a cliff edge drop and of course the pharmaceutical ban had a major impact for many companies. From memory I think 183 companies went out of business that year. The BPMA has fundamentally changed over the past ten years too. The association is completely unrecognizable now to then, but we had to change or we would have disappeared. I came from having run my own business into an association with lots of challenges and a falling membership. When I joined, the BPMA had around 650 members, but our membership was very mixed – all sorts of organisations, voucher companies, agencies etc. A shake-up took place here. Today, we have around 560 members – around half of whom are suppliers and half are distributors – but the structure is much more homogeneous and more representative. We represent around half the industry by value.
The last major occurrence in the British economy is the Brexit – what is your view of the impact on the promotional merchandise industry?
Gordon Glenister: Like many, I was shocked by the decision to leave the European Union. The Pound has dropped by 15% since the referendum, which makes the cost of importing significantly higher both in terms of finished goods for suppliers and distributors and raw materials for manufacturers. On a more positive note though there has been a rise in interest for UK made products due to the weak Pound. Certainly some of our more established suppliers are finding a significant increase in trade from overseas due to the far more competitive pricing and we may even see a greater number of UK manufacturers exporting. I launched the UK manufacturers Briman group a year ago and I am delighted to see it flourish so much. The BPMA has strong European partnerships and I don’t see this changing. Ironically, the UK economy has remained resilient to the shock and is still outperforming many of our European partners. Even if the EU does try to make an example out of the United Kingdom, the country will still remain to be an important trading partner for Europe. I also think that new trade agreements apart from the bureaucratic obstacles will have no major impact on the industry. The biggest danger is always that the advertising industry loses its confidence and starts drawing out the decision-making processes. This is why we have to act professionally as an industry and carry on working to further push haptic advertising among the decision-makers – in line with the old marketing proverb “Sell the sizzle, not the steak”. We all have to work at this.
What can an association do to push this professionalism and such a positioning?
Gordon Glenister: Only the best will prevail. When I joined the industry, to be honest, whilst I found it very friendly and exciting, I found it very unprofessional. Anyone was selling promotional products, without sufficient knowledge. I did feel a lack of salesmanship and customer service prevailed. I am not saying the BPMA has fixed that, but I do feel with our conferences, education programmes, mystery shopper research and industry level standards, we are moving in the right direction. We are now starting to see some of the top companies using compliance as a key part of the sales strategy. We have also been very strong in the way we have warned members about scams and companies with poor practice or ethics. Last, but not least we have an end user task force within the association, which focuses on marketing our advertising medium among the end users.
Such initiatives require huge commitment on behalf of the association management – as well as a solid financial cushion.
Gordon Glenister: I have worked with a number of Chairmen in my time – David Lebond, Gill Thorpe, Neal Beagles, Viv Blumfield, Matt Franks and the current Chair Graeme Smith – all of whom have been great people and passionate about giving their time to support the association. A lot goes on behind the scenes that many members may not see. All our board are volunteers and give up hours of time to help in their specific areas of interest. However, this alone doesn’t bring any funding. In the past we had revenue drivers such as the end user magazine Promotions Buyer and the Bluebook directory – a company directory for end users. These were soon discontinued, due to decreasing demand. Sourcing is almost entirely done online nowadays by other commercial operators. The new trade fair though, Merchandise World, which BPMA is jointly organising with Sourcing City, is a new source of income and as importantly a greater way to support members, which is developing very promisingly. Around 70% of the exhibition space is already booked for the next edition taking place later this year in September and we recently decided to organise a Merchandise World in January 2018 as well.
What is your personal résumé after ten years of BPMA?
Gordon Glenister: In my mind, I was supposed to do this job for two years and then move on. What keeps me engaged is the many hundreds of personalities and friends I have built over my ten years. I really love to see our members do well in business, bring out cool products, take on extra staff, invest in new machinery, win awards or help them when they are stuck, want to train their staff, need my advice on something and so much more. I have a number of friends in other trade bodies, many of this group have had three or four CEOs in the same timespan as mine. This role can be very political at times and is not for the faint-hearted, but I like to think I’ve made it my own.
// Till Barth spoke with Gordon Glenister.